Something happened last week that literally cracked my heart open. I’m sharing this with you in the hope that you might allow your heart to open a bit more too.
Last week saw one of the world’s worst terrorist attacks in over a decade. 300 people were blown up in a capital city, many of them in their twenties and thirties. There was no safety check-in on Facebook like there is when there is an attack on any Western country. Nobody changed their Facebook picture to the flag of the country where it occurred. In fact, outside my mum, I didn’t see one friend write a post with a prayer for that country. This was because that attack took place in Iraq.
I spent the majority of last week uncharacteristically angry and upset about the lack of support for the people of Iraq. Something was eating me and I couldn’t let it go. But I came to realize that it’s not directly the fault of the people of the West that we didn’t show solidarity for Iraq in the way that we usually do when there is an attack on a Western country. It’s that we have allowed the media to dehumanize the Middle East for us, and we continue to drink that Kool Aid, no matter how open minded or liberal we consider ourselves to be. I also realized that my work and life and brought me into such close contact with a great number of people from the Middle East, that I’ve had the luxury of breaking down the media and Hollywood stereo-types that also existed in me, and that others may not have had that same luxury.
When We Are Prejudice and we Just Don’t Know It
I always considered myself to have a really high standard in equality. I grew up in a pretty racist town in the north of England, and I remember taking a stand against racism when I was 9. That was the first time I met someone from another race in a town that was almost all white. A young boy came to my school from India and as the only foreign national, he became the center of attention. The other kids weren’t excessively mean to him, but they often taunted him with a parody of an Indian comedy TV character. I joined in once for one sentence and it cut my heart like a knife. I realized that it was inherently wrong and from that moment on I made the decision to stand against racism (although I didn’t know that was what it was called back then), and I consistently did so thought out my childhood and adult life.
Fast-forward almost 30 years to the success of my second book and I was invited to teach emotional trauma work in the Middle East. My reaction made me look deeply within and realize that despite my liberal outlook, I still had an extremely stilted and prejudice perception of the Middle East. In fact, I think it was conjuring up images somewhere between Lawrence of Arabia and a Taliban stronghold.
Despite being very well educated and considering myself liberal and open minded, here are some of the prejudices that I openly admit ran through my mind when I was invited to the Middle East:
- Perhaps I’ll get kidnapped on a dusty road (if there are any roads)
- I wonder how I will manage living in the desert
- I think the people will be pretty hardened by all that war
- People will generally be pretty cold and unwelcoming towards me
Judging by the reaction of my friends and family when I said I’d been invited to the Middle East, I know I wasn’t alone in my perception. People around me reacted with the same prejudice I’d shown internally. They were worried for my safety and they told me to “be careful out there.” Some were extremely angry that I was going at all. One friend told me with disgust that, “Conscious people boycott these places.” And it’s true, I’d also boycotted several Middle Eastern countries in the past too.
Despite my reservations, something inside me was calling me to go. Here’s what I actually found when I arrived:
- The cities and towns were literally like any city that I’d encountered in the West.
- Yes, there were tarmac roads, even in the desert (although there wasn’t really that much desert – at least not how I had pictured it).
- I felt safer walking around the city at night on my own than I had done in any European city.
- I stayed in a house in a town like any other in Europe. The houses had their own unique character and charm, but they weren’t anything like the extremes of what I’d imagined or been fed by Hollywood.
- The people had their hearts cracked open by war. It hadn’t made them more cold like I had imagined. The opposite was true. Many had experienced what might be called a ‘spiritual awakening’ at times when they had almost died. There was a level of wisdom and consciousness that I had not anticipated.
- Many of the people I met were anti-war. The majority of them wanted to live in peace. They didn’t want conflict, either in their own country or with the countries that surrounded them. They felt powerless over their governments regimes.
- Many of the people were among the warmest and most welcoming that I had ever met. I was invited and taken into people’s houses as if I was family. I was treated with the utmost love and respect. One time I asked a guy who was eating a plate of food where he had got it from. “Would you like to share it with me?” he asked. I had similar experiences over and over again.
Spending a significant amount of time in the Middle East helped me to realize just how much I had allowed my perception to be shaped by the media. I returned on several occasions and even called it home for a while. Just to be clear though, I was still pro-peace in the Middle East. I still supported an end to all war too. But I stopped demonizing the people or adhering to a single stereo-type. I saw with my heart, rather than my conditioning.
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3
Fast forward several more years and I met the love of my life in New York: the funniest, most charismatic, charming, loving, kind and brilliant man I ever met in my life. It was love at first sight and like something straight out of a movie when we met. We literally kissed before we spoke to each other and moved in together on the day that we met. We didn’t ask each other where we were from right at the start. It wasn’t even relevant to us.
It’s funny, it’s only from the outside that others consider us to be in a “mixed race” relationship. We don’t even think of it that way. The irony is that despite growing up in seemingly different worlds, we are more similar to each other at heart than anyone else that either of us have ever met. My partner was raised in a strict Muslim, Middle Eastern country with very religious parents, while my parents where ex-catholic and ex-christian and both pretty atheist in nature. But these aren’t the things that are at the forefront when you fall in love with someone. In fact, they aren’t even really considerations. They are just facts about a life that went before. We are more interested in the places that our hearts meet than the contrasts that others might see.
Because we never thinking about our differences, I forget that the same ease isn’t shared by our fellow Americans in general. I know this to be true because when people who haven’t met my partner ask where he is from and I tell them, they often act in a way that reveals their own prejudice too. Whether it’s repeating the name of his country back to me in a high-pitched tone with raised eyebrows or giving me a concerned or questioning look, you don’t have to be good at reading people to tell that there are questions running through their minds that they are too polite to ask, or that they have some kind of concerns for me.
I totally get it. Maybe, before my time in the Middle East I would have done the same. But now, if we are really stirring up the race issue in the US and taking a stand for the prejudice that still exists here and in the rest of the West, I’m wondering if we are ready to look deep within, especially those of us who consider ourselves to be open-minded and liberal, and ask if the prejudice still exists somewhere in us. Are we able to admit that we heard about the bombing in Iraq and it didn’t touch us in the same way as the attacks on, say, Belgium and France? Are we willing to face that part of ourselves that we allowed to be conditioned and programmed by Hollywood and the media?
If we are even a tiny bit willing to admit to ourself that we hadn’t cared about that attack in Iraq in the same way as other terror attacks, then without shaming or blaming ourselves, maybe we can start to crack our hearts open just a little bit more. Maybe it can be the beginning of realizing how, when it comes to the Middle East, we haven’t been taught to think freely for ourselves and we’ve been dictated to by a media puppet show. Maybe, just maybe, we can allow ourselves a little bit more freedom of thought than what we have been granted so far. Maybe we can end our prejudices just a little bit and see more of our similarities rather than our differences.
Sent with love
Beautiful heartfelt and thought provoking post. Thank you
Sasha Allenby says
Thanks so much for commenting Marléne. Much love to you.
Thank you so much Sasha. You cracked open my heart much more than it had a few months ago when I noticed how afraid I still was about the people from the middle east. You worded this so nicely that I know I am on the right path.
Sasha Allenby says
That is awesome Romy. It takes so much courage to admit that our fears are there in the first place. I really respect that and am really happy to hear that you are on the right path with it. Sending love, Sasha
Jenny Eshed says
Thanks so much Sasha and as you’ve experienced in our area, some people in both side of the conflict have managed to keep their hearts open, despite dehumanizing circumstances. Goes to show that there is that part of us that is untainted by outer circumstances and trauma, so the more we are able to infuse ourselves with this untainted indwelling breath of life, the more peace could prevail on earth. Best and love Jenny
Sasha Allenby says
YES, YES, YES. Love this Jenny. “Some people in both sides of the conflict have managed to keep their hearts open.” That’s the power we have right there. I don’t have the same experience of living with such kind of conflict on a long-term basis and I respect and admire those who are able to keep cracking their hearts open time and time again and standing for peace. You are awesome Jenny. Massive respect and love to you and all that you stand for.
Mair Llewellyn says
To lovely Sasha, Thank you for sharing your thoughts so openly. Tam & I have experienced so many deep and moving times whilst travelling and teaching in the last 16 years. Receiving beautiful open trust and calm and being welcomed into so many homes as well as the gift of visits made to us here in Tickhill, South Yorkshire have been truly life affirming. It has certainly opened our hearts and touched our souls sweetheart. Love to you from us both Tam & Mary xx
Sasha Allenby says
That is so awesome to hear, Mair. I know you guys have been teaching far and wide for a long while and you both have such awesome and open hearts. I can imagine you being welcomed in all corners of the world. Thanks so much for taking time to share this and reinforce this further. With great love to both you and Tam. Sasha xxx
Jenny Eshed says
I think and know from experience that people numb out when the continued worldwide “slaughter” is too overwhelming and numb out too out of fear that it could happen in their home town. The widespread ongoing violence has reached many parts of the world now but nonetheless remains FAR more intense and almost daily routine in the Middle East. As a result of the bloodshed being so common in the M.E., westerners don’t give the slaughter the same status, as it is part expect and accepted. As opposed to in Europe vile attacks are sporadic not routine therefore more shocking and devastating compared to more seasoned recipients of violence who have been living these atrocities for decades. This is not justify these circumstances though find this factual. Peace begins with me.
Sasha Allenby says
That is so beautifully put Jenny. There is a desensitization, like you say, due to the massive amount of suffering that has taken place. I love your comment ‘peace begins with me’ – not just a comment but a way of life. Sending you huge amounts of love and respect. Sasha
Richard Flook says
It’s funny how the prejudices you speak of Sasha, play like records in your mind, based on such thin air with no substance. It seems to all starts with a racist comment made by a family member or friend when you are young, being inadvertently influenced at an early age.
It is considered cool or right to hate someone due to the colour of their skin, their background, their beliefs. You become are part of a special clan, an elite group, it makes you seem elevated, above the rest.
It’s only when you realize these ‘Coloured’ people have hearts and emotions just like you. They want the same as you, to meet someone, fall in love, build a home, have children and live in PEACE!
Whether you’re black, white, eastern or Indian it’s the same, isn’t it Sasha?
I too have travelled the world just like you, and have experienced the same warmth and love from complete strangers.
And Hollywood, the media, the Trumping attitude that is racing across America. The Brexit – one mindedness of a single opinion riding high over a deep seated desire for peace amongst all – it is NOT who we are the world over.
These fears NOT to live in peace, to break away, to be special because someone told you, someone you looked up to, that must be right, a statement based on thin air, have a root it seems.
In my research into GMOs, big pharmaceuticals, the health industry, this same pattern shows its ugly head. I found it’s created by a few whose focus is driven by ‘Immoral Greed’.
This ‘Immoral Greed’ where a handful of power hungry narcissistic individuals drive their own agendas. The Rothschild’s, the Monsanto’s, the Bayer’s, the Exxon’s.
It’s driven by human kind at its worse.
But underneath it all, I believe, is an awakening. People did see the posts about Iraq. Muslim people I know wrote about it. And they did comment. They questioned why. But it fell on deaf ears here in the West, as you said Sasha.
Why? There’s an interesting book called Contagion. That explains why things spread or not. And it’s that group sharing thing, the need to be part of a group that is considered special.
Until we all break that mould. And the hold that these individuals have on us, then we will see a change.
And that is happening. The world changed it’s energy from a yang to a ying energy in 2012. NASA even observed this. And a soften more gentler form is showing through.
The new British Prime Minister is a case in point. No man would take that job. They could not be seen to be taking Britain out of Europe, how weak! The political narcissist who cannot see past their own reflection – is a case in point. But it gave a woman the opportunity. From adversity comes diversity.
And though diversity comes awakening, and a change in beliefs that are driven by it.
Thanks for writing a great post Sasha.
Sasha Allenby says
Richard, thanks so much for your deep, heartfelt and insightful reply. Like you, I feel change coming, and am happy that we can be part of that change, even by opening the conversation. Huge love to you dear friend and thanks for taking the time to respond.
Thank you for sharing this perspective – and I hope it gets alot more readings…
Sasha Allenby says
Thanks so much for taking the time to read and respond Yvonne. Much love, Sasha
Kat Knecht says
I posted this on my Facebook page and my 35 year old daughter shared and I got to witness the power of truth being spread to another generation. This has brought me the kind of joy that also includes tears. My own parents were fierce about equality yet I see how this shift needs to keep moving. Thank you for helping to keep the message moving!
Sasha Allenby says
That’s so beautiful Kat. I felt really moved by your response. I feel exactly the same. However fierce we have been about equality, there is still room for more. Feel blessed to receive your comment and hopeful that the small things that all of us do are where change begins. Big love, Sasha