This isn’t a deep, existential question that you might hear a philosophy professor pose to a class. This a simple question about perspective and opinion.

What do we mean when we say something is “different”? Is that designation always impartial, that is, are there any emotions tied to calling something “different”?

We all certainly would love to, without hesitation, say we are impartial to anything that’s “different,” but everyone, yes, everyone, would be lying. Look through history books or the Bible. We are flooded with instances where there is such hatred, such intent and determination to make it clear that “they” are different and are less than us.

God favors those who are x.y.z….

Too often we come across some variation of that statement throughout history and it often perplexes me how we proceeded through thousands of years of history fueled by this divisive ideology at the center of our religion, of what we preach to be “our sense of purpose.”

One could argue that gone are the days when the armies invaded foreign lands in the name of (insert favored deity here). And sure, we can rest assured that the Spanish Inquisition will most likely never happen again…
With all that in mind, however, what do we say about last month’s events in Ferguson, Missouri?

Certainly the core of the problems surrounding this embarrassing situation – and yes, for a country that prides itself on humanitarian and egalitarian sentiment and social progress, this has been embarrassing – isn’t religion. It is, however, centered around that more fundamental idea which we all simply cannot understand or tolerate: difference.

This is not a judgment about the people involved, including law enforcement, but what boggles my mind is that, when confronted with the dissimilar, with the unknown or with those unlike us, violence has often been our answer. The events in Ferguson are no exception.

Let he who is without fault
cast the first stone.

I will not get into a political debate and discuss the details of what led up to what we were seeing on TV. That’s not the point. What I am highlighting is our societal inability to learn from our mistakes. It only takes common sense to realize that ignorance, an inability to see beyond one’s own faults, and violence have combined to create the dangerous results we see.

In high school, I was a part of teen program that worked in collaboration with the House of Peace Capuchin ministry center on the North Side of Milwaukee. Our main project was workshops for middle school kids where we taught non-violent conflict resolution skills. These were not very sophisticated lessons or techniques, but they were grounded in fundamental human traits and skills, things that make us similar, not different, as humans – our abilities to talk, listen and understand.

It’s incredulous to believe that kids who have not grown up in the most ideal of conditions are more receptive and willing to put these ideas into actions than most adults. Trying to deal with an unfortunate, tragic, uncomfortable situation like the one in Ferguson is not easy. That does not mean, however, that we should resort to the one way of dealing with things that we know, that our country’s and world’s history shows has rarely represented the means to a solution.

The italicized quote above is one of Jesus’ words and it is a phrase which we often mentioned in our middle school workshops. If protestors and authority figures alike truly reflected upon that phrase, we would be well on our way toward peace, healing and resolution.

Hopefully, that shall be soon.

(Espino, a 2011 graduate of Marquette University High School, Milwaukee, is studying economics at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. His home parish is St. Vincent de Paul, Milwaukee. Email him at