Could a cup of coffee change the world?

Photo by michaelandannabel on Flickr

Right now I’d like you to play a little game with me.

In your mind, come up with the most unlikeable person you can imagine. Invent the person who would be the least likely person you’d want to sit and have a cup of coffee with.

Maybe he’s a born-again Christian, or she used to be a man. Maybe she supports the Tea Party, or he donates to Planned Parenthood. Perhaps she’s a Muslim wearing a hijab, or homeless, or says she’s voting for Bernie Sanders. Or he might be wearing a gun on his hip, or smoking a cigar while admitting he parties with Dick Cheney or marches with the KKK.

Go crazy. Make this imaginary person as reprehensible to you as you can. Imagine a person you could hate.

Now imagine that this same person is working on a cure for cancer, or just saved a woman and her three kids from a burning building.

Would you still hate who they are?

Why am I asking this? I finally got around to watching The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch and I’m left pondering these questions for myself. If you didn’t already know, the movie is about Alan Turing, the man who built a machine to break the Nazis’ encryption during WWII and is considered by many to be the father of modern computing (and is one of my personal heroes). Despite playing such a critical role in winning the war for the Allies, only a few years afterwards the British Government prosecuted him for being homosexual, which at the time was illegal. He committed suicide a year later, at the young age of 41.

The mind boggles at what he might have created had he not had to suffer bigotry and intolerance by the laws of the time.

And it made me wonder. With all of this current rhetoric against Muslims and Syrians and gay people and immigrants, are we not potentially silencing the next Alan Turing? How many brilliant and brave people walk among us right now—people who might make a difference—but are being bullied or belittled because they hold an unpopular belief or came from another country or worship a different god? How many cannot cope with this hatred and never pursue their dreams, either out of choice or necessity?

How much more greatness could we experience in the world if people weren’t so busy hating each other?

I mean, think about it. Imagine what the US Congress could do if they worked together to make a difference. There are so many points in common, after all. Doesn’t pretty much everyone want to eradicate fatal diseases, protect children, keep Americans safe? Couldn’t those things be achieved so much more easily if there didn’t need to be so much posturing and partisanship?

Congress serves as a good paradigm, but we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility here. The same principle works at the micro level, for each and every one of our lives. If we spent less time trying to be better than someone else, proving our position or religion or philosophy was superior to the man who lives with his husband or puts a Trump bumper sticker on his car, couldn’t we get through life a little easier? I mean, really, what does rancor and animosity really accomplish? Maybe we feel better about ourselves for about 15 seconds when we post that obnoxious comment on Facebook (and admit it, we’ve all done it) but does it ever change anyone’s opinion? Does it make the world even fractionally better?

And what if putting out this hatred in the world scares off the next Alan Turing, or Albert Einstein, or Martin Luther King Jr.? What if someone can’t find refuge in a country where they can get into school, or they end up homeless because they can’t get a job. What if the bullying causes them to commit suicide?

Maybe it’s time to take someone you don’t like out for coffee and find out.