Jill Segger writes about recognising our humanity in the suffering of others

It is when we are brought face to face with suffering that we most recognise our oneness. In that instinctive response, we are gifted with the truthful moment. And because humankind cannot bear very much reality, the acquired protections may quickly kick in. Most of these begin with 'but...' as we erect our defences of conditionality, of confirmation bias, of prejudice and exclusivity.

If one image above all others brought the terrible reality of the refugee crisis into our comfort zones, it was the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, face down in the sea on a Turkish beach. Of course, the normal adult response to the death of a defenceless child is one of horror and pain. But there was something else operating here. In his red shirt and blue shorts, Aylan was the toddler next door, dressed from the Boden catalogue. The protection of 'otherness' had been stripped away: we were enabled to acknowledge that this was Everychild and that his death had most horribly diminished us all.

How are we to use these openings which are given us when we encounter vulnerability – our own or that of others? It is not easy. The tendency to partisanship runs deep and we are perhaps more
ready to be disturbed or made timid by difference than we are to recognise the essence.

I am a Quaker. So, as most of us will, I turn to the experiences of my own tradition when reaching for understanding. Here are some words from the Epistle of the recent Friends World Committee for Consultation during which Friends from many different countries and strands of Quakerism came together in Peru: “Through listening deeply and tenderly to each other and to God, we reached a place where we can hear and sense where the words come from even when we may not understand the tongue they are spoken in.”

I feel therefore led to try harder to adopt and take for my guide the meaning of Namaste: 'my spirit recognises your spirit.' It is in this radical acknowledgement and in the practice of attention and humility which it surely mandates, that I believe we may learn to look beyond the outward forms which divide us and deep into the true commons of our species. That commonality is the Divine spark which war, selfishness, the machinations of politicians and the lure of short-term gratification can never quite extinguish.

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he told us that the pure in spirit will see God.

Jill Segger


The World Congress of Faiths
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