The purpose of this piece is not to judge anyone. The purpose of this piece is to offer a reflection on how I used to judge people and have spent a life time trying to thwart those instincts.
It began when I played hockey with French and English boys. The French kids were often on one side of the dressing room and the English boys were on the other side. We went to different schools, often lived in different neighbourhoods, and we couldn’t understand each other’s Mother Tongues. But we eventually learned how to understand each other’s passing ability and each other’s shooting and back-checking abilities, and if there was a fight, we knew what teammates had our backs and were willing to take a punch for us. Because a grimace or a bleeding lip, or a protective gesture knew no language besides caring and respect.
When I played basketball, I played with Black guys and Muslim guys and Asian guys. About a week into grueling practices or tryouts, we didn’t care about anything besides effort and hit free-throws. And when a teammate name Abraham had to miss an important game or two because of Rammadan, we respected him and welcomed him back. Because he was a good teammate and it was integral to his identity.
It was the same in professional kitchens. The Muslims had to go and sit down for a while during their Holy Time, amidst a busy dinner rush and we made do. And when they were back, we were thankful for their return and would later smoke cigarettes together and talk about it.
I’m watching the news about the Coronavirus and how Justin Trudeau has been advocating tolerance in the face of racist inclinations. You may not like him, but it is a good message. I lived in Toronto’s Chinatown and it’s evident there. I lived in Ottawa’s Chinatown and it’s racist there too. Though less so. On a Dundas Street Car, a trashy white woman in a ratty winter jacket, once stood at the front of the streetcar and while facing sixty Chinese faces, yelled as loudly as she could, “Ching-Ling, Ching-Ling, Ching-Ling”. The few Caucasions on the transport were on the Chinese people’s sides because we realized who was the fool. And the Chinese people simply laughed. That was a thirty second experience that I remember thirty-five years later.
I am not cured. I don’t like how some religions and cultures treat gays or women. I don’t like how my own culture treats seniors or disabled people. But I am not an innocent. But while I acknowledge that fact, we’re all capable of absolution.
I can’t change anyone’s mind. But I simply offer the idea that we can each change our own minds. If we open our eyes. And open our ears. Even if it’s to a language we don’t quite understand.