When I moved from Iceland to Texas in 2010, I was forced to face several unconscious and uncharacteristically judgmental attitudes.
In Iceland, I had labeled myself a political moderate and my voting history included both center-right and center-left political parties (plural, as in, there are a lot of political parties in Iceland, not just the two choices we have here in the USA).
Furthermore, I stood outside of organized religion as a part of the spiritual-but-not-religious movement. I thought of myself as fairly evolved spiritually and predominantly free of pejorative views.
Yet, after we arrived, I struggled mightily with many of the religious and political ideologies I was faced with in Texas. For a while there, I couldn’t even get myself to interact with people who showed different ideological preferences.
Connecting Through Our Shared Humanity
Thank goodness for my wife and kids. Because of my children, who were two and seven when we moved to Texas, I’ve interacted with a number of parents through everything from sports and band to Girl Scouts and Mu Sool Won. Furthermore, my wife, who is a natural connector, has brought me along to crawfish boils, dinner clubs, game nights, and more.
Through these interrelations, I realized that many of my assumptions were wrong. Mingling with an assortment of nice people in Texas—people who have beliefs and values that are different from my own but who treat everyone around them with dignity and respect—was eye opening.
The exposure allowed me to see nuance where I saw none before and to connect directly with ideological rivals through our shared humanity. I’ve even made friends with several individuals that I would never have socialized with in Iceland. While they are of a different tenor than ones with which I achieve ideological parity, I enjoy our interactions nonetheless.
In my native Icelandic, the word heimskur is synonymous with stupidity but has a slightly different meaning. Directly translated the word means homeish, i.e., someone who only knows his or her backyard. Whereas stupidity denotes a lack of intellectual capacity, homeishness indicates a lack of exposure to other cultures, people with different ideologies, a variety of surroundings, and so on. A homeish person is not intellectually challenged but has been confined to home and has a limited view of the world as a result.
While I had traveled to Europe, lived in Australia for a year, and been to several places in America before I moved to Texas, I was homeish (limited) when it came to my views about the people who lived in the Lone Star State. A few of my predispositions turned out to be true but most of them did not. There were always more nuanced beliefs to be found and more to the story than I had anticipated.
Led to the Foundation of This Organization
Becoming aware of my underlying biases was one of the reasons why I trained to become an Interfaith Minister and it was most certainly a contributing factor to the formation of Harmony Interfaith Initiative.
I am not alone in making such discoveries. In 2018, I read an opinion piece by Ann Bauer in the Washington Post titled, ‘I was a Yankee liberal. It took moving to Arkansas for me to understand my biases,’ that detailed many of the same experiences I had. She was, for example, willing to overlook steadfast and sometimes judgmental beliefs held by her friends who were vegan and Muslim, but wasn’t willing to do the same for conservative Christians, that is, until she found herself interacting with them on a daily basis.
It’s astounding what regular interactions can do.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this. I’ve realized that there are plenty of good people who oppose my ideological beliefs and there are plenty of unpleasant people who share my views. I am not the first person to realize this nor will I be the last, but my experience underlines why it is important for us to connect through our shared humanity and stop seeing ideological rivals as enemies.
Rev. Gudjon Bergmann
Founder and Lead Educator at Harmony Interfaith Initiative
This article was adapted from my new book:
Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides
Ideas that promote social harmony and bridge-building across divides.
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Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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