I was talking to someone who reached out to me on social media (he had read something I wrote, and he didn't agree with it); we were having a courteous exchange of views, but then, he told me that if he couldn't change my mind, there was no reason for us to keep talking. I never heard from him again.
I can understand that attitude: it's so much easier to only talk with people who agree with you, who tell you that you're right and the folks on the other side of the issue are clueless and misguided. And I also understand that relationships dominated by argument and disagreement don't tend to last. But here's the problem: if we only spend our time with those who share the same beliefs as us, and if we only think of people on the other side as potential converts to our point of view, we miss out on seeing each other as human beings. It becomes all too easy to reduce "them" to a stereotype, to criticize, to demonize, to reject people who might turn out to be worth knowing.
And let's be honest-- we've all done it. Many of us, myself included, can quote Scripture (or philosophy) about the importance of love and kindness; and yes in our lives, we do try to be loving and kind. But there are also times when we can be judgmental, when we can gossip, or spread rumors, or be harsh when we should have been compassionate. There are times when we don't see the other as a person, created in the image of God. For example, I have seen otherwise nice kids bully someone from a different culture or mock someone with a disability; and I've seen their parents tell jokes about people who are different, or say nothing when a racist or sexist or homophobic slur is used.
If you're Jewish, tonight (and for the next week) it's Passover, and at the ritual meal-- the seder-- we are commanded to welcome the stranger, and to remember that we too were once strangers in a strange land. That is why every year, I've invited people of many religions and cultures to my seder-- not to try to convert them, but rather, to let them know that they are welcome. In fact, they make my holiday even more special by being there to share it.
And if you're Christian, you know that Jesus often spoke of the need to care about the people who were marginalized, the people society tended to treat with scorn. It seems to me that if you are serious about your religion, it can't just be something you think about on a religious holiday. It ought to be something that guides your life and impacts how you treat others.
Perhaps I sound naive. Perhaps you'll laugh at what I'm saying. But the way I see it, since we are all inhabiting the same world, I believe that finding positive experiences we can share (even with those who are different from us) can lead to greater understanding. I'm perfectly okay with the fact that not everyone thinks like I do. But as long as they respect my views, and as long as they want to share some portion of my life, I want to welcome them. May your holidays be happy, may you be a source of peace, tolerance, and love, and may you join with me in welcoming the stranger-- at Passover, at Easter, and at other times as well.