Why the Refugee Crisis Reminds me of Childhood Love

When I was in kindergarten, I had a massive crush on a boy. For the sake of this story, we’ll call him Peter. Peter was smart, cool and a total underdog in sports. He was the shortest boy in our class, but that never held him back.

I had tried for ages to get Peter to see that I liked him. I covered myself in sand, I brought gooey cookies to class that melted when you put them in your mouth, I stood up for him when another boy tried to bully him for picking his nose, I even went so far as to covertly move his clothespin back up to the “good scoop” area on the ice cream cone of progress (or, the cone of shame as I fondly recall it) when our teacher got mad at him for not finishing his homework. But Peter never seemed to notice my labors of love.

Seasons passed and I made better grades than he did, and he continued to discreetly pick his nose, but I never gave up on him. Christmas rolled around, and by the grace of some purple-haired, blue-skinned god with an elephant trunk nose and spotted clown shoes, I drew Peter’s name to be my Secret Santa partner! I went to the store with my mother and used all my allowance to buy the biggest box of transformers in Toys-R-US.

Now, I was sure he would appreciate me.

When Secret Santa day rolled around, I had my mom bring me to school an hour early so I could drop off the massive gift box without anyone noticing. After I plopped the present in the middle of the classroom, I proceeded to hide in the bathroom for 56 minutes. I wanted to make sure this would be a surprise for him.

When I walked in, all eyes were on my box. It was the biggest gift in the room by a long shot, and every person in class wanted to know what was inside, and who it was for. I sat in the corner like a wildcat and waited, and waited… and waited for Peter to open his gift.

But Peter wasn’t in class. At least, not when all of the other kids started to open their presents. 5 minutes later, Peter wasn’t there. 10 minutes later, no Peter. 20 minutes, I’m biting my nails. 30 minutes, I couldn’t take it any more. I ran out of the classroom and through every hall of our elementary school calling out his name like Triton blowing his wreathed horn, but only silence crept back to my ears.

After all that searching, I knew there was only one place he could be. Dare I? I knew it would be scary, but a lady’s gotta do, what a lady’s gotta do. With every ounce of courage I had in my body, I shoved open the door to the boys bathroom and found Peter crying in a heap on the bathroom floor. Putting all inhibition aside, I ran into my fears and wrapped my arms around him.

“Peter… Hey, hey, HEY! It’s okay, it’s okay! Why are you crying?”

Embarrassed but completely comfortable with me, he looked back and said, “M-m-m-muuuuh — mmmmy family doesn’t celebrate Christmas!”

I held him tighter and asked what brings him closer to his loved ones during winter,

“Hanukkah!” *muffled cries* “I celebrate Hanukkah!”

“Then how about this!” I said, seeming to always have a plan, “We’ll celebrate Hanukkah at my house, and you can bring your family, and I will invite all of kindergarten so you can have your holiday!”

He smiled at me through splotched cheeks and said, “okay”.

That day, I convinced Peter to pick himself up off the floor, go back into class, and celebrate, even if Christmas wasn’t the holiday his family celebrates at home.

That night, I went home and told my parents we were not doing Christmas this year, we were doing Hanukkah. We did.

That week, I marched into the principal’s office and told her how left out it made Peter feel to celebrate without including his faith and tradition. She was blindsided by this and blown away.

Next year, our entire “Christmas” pageant centered about the celebration of inter-relational dynamics of faith and culture. I sang the song about Kwanzaa.

The same next year, Peter moved to Arizona. He took the transformers with him. I did not date a boy until I was 17 years old.

This experience with young love taught me something interesting about life. You don’t always receive the lesson you want, but if you are seeking, you will always learn exactly what you need to better understand and grow through your journey.

I think of this story when analyzing the conflicts and the current inter-cultural tension between refugees and various other cultures.

When I speak to open-minded people from wealthy Western nations about issues admitting refugees, their unconscious concern shows consistency in one solid principle, fear of exclusion. You may find it unusual for a person who is given many rights at birth to feel excluded by a person who is a holocaust survivor, however, empathy does not mean caring about the feelings of one side alone. To grow, we should listen to each other if we hope to get through this miracle called life together.

Connected culture, tolerance and respect for one another based on common understanding is a huge factor contributing to the baseline of personal comfort. When refugees are isolated or isolate themselves in enclaves as opposed to getting involved in communities where everyone is encouraged to connect empathetically with curiosity, people are easily exposed to misunderstandings on both sides no person would like to perpetuate.

The more conversations I have surrounding these topics, the more I begin to feel challenged by “in-the-box” solutions. I think of Peter and the Hanukkah party I threw in kindergarten, which leads me to ask a simple question, “what would happen if these people took more time to celebrate each other?”

Everyone loves a bit of good fun, and learning about new cultures is an extremely exciting experience. This one of the reasons why tourism is a vast and ever present market.

What would happen if we took that thought a step further? What would happen if these people lived together for a period of time? Real estate almost always has excess capacity, and in places like The Netherlands, excess capacity is already being used to give college students free housing in exchange for dedicating time toward the care of an elderly person.

One of my companies, BITNATION: The Virtual Blockchain Nation, started giving refugees self-sovereign identities on the blockchain. Thoughts began to swirl in my head, “Maybe we can kill three birds with one stone. Identity, inclusion, housing”.

In addition to our blockchain based “World Citizenship ID” BITNATION has an embassy network being used around the world to facilitate what can effectively be understood as “AirBNB for Refugees”. Any owner of any home across the planet can sign up to become a BITNATION citizen, and make their residence available to other BITNATION citizens on their terms, with all of us in mind.

BITNATION embassy in South Korea with Founder and one of my best friends on the planet, Susanne Templehof

The photo above is showcasing a South Korean embassy in BITNATION’s ever expanding network. This BITNATION Embassy is a huge three story building with massive solar panels (20 or more like the one in the photo), blueberry patches, a free-range chicken farm, a large greenhouse with facilities for fish, farming and vegetables, several workspaces with conference rooms (complete with stage) as well as several bedrooms with balconies, en suite kitchens and bathrooms. This space, just as all other spaces on the BITNATION network, is made available for BITNATION Citizens to live and work in for free, for months if desired.

Any space in the world can be registered to provide housing to refugees who are not being provided for, and for any BITNATION citizen across the globe. You can register your house here.

Culture is a celebration of being and the relationships we share with our tribes. By registering your house on the BITNATION network and making your empty space available to citizens of the world, we, together, have the capability to fundamentally redefine our reception to other human beings and the lessons they have learned in this life.

Hopefully, this will lead to some very interesting parties ;)

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