The Refugee’s Gift

I’ve been helping a family of Syrian refugees — Omar, Salwa and their 7 children — since they arrived here 3 weeks ago, sponsored by the Unitarian Church of Montreal. After escalating violence, their home was destroyed by bombs 4 days after the youngest child was born, by Caesarean. That day, they began the long walk to Jordan, where Omar and Salwa were then not allowed to work and the family faced ongoing discrimination.

Despite their awful experiences, I’ve never felt such peacefulness, love and easy laughter as I do with them. Only the oldest son speaks some English, so I don’t always know what they’re saying. That allows me to be an observer, noticing the dynamic of their interactions. It’s really something beautiful. Just to watch them and to be in their presence feels like a gift to me. And I have to believe that their relationships must be a core source of their resilience.

In my book, The Age of Thrivability, I write briefly about this at a general level: about how this is a common characteristic in Middle Eastern cultures, how this is one critical piece in a vast evolutionary landscape, and what it means for the survival of humanity.

Specifically, I write about how:

  • All thriving living systems demonstrate a small number of characteristics: convergent wholeness; dynamic, responsive relationship; divergent parts; and self-integrating life.
  • Over the major eras, humanity has developed each of these characteristics in turn, first operating from a consciousness of wholeness and present-moment awareness during the hunter/gatherer era, then moving to embrace relationship consciousness in the agrarian era, eventually exploring divergent, individualistic consciousness in the modern/industrial era, and now — if we’re lucky — embracing a level of consciousness that can integrate wholeness, relationship and individuality to carry us into an Age of Thrivability.

“Rather than interpreting the eras of humanity as a series of definitive shifts taken by all humans in lockstep,” I write, “it may be more accurate to view each era as the appearance of a new option on the scene. At each transition, some parts of the human population began to experiment with an alternative focus, while others continued to steward one of the other core capabilities.

At any one point in history, then, different populations have held different focal points, though they may be contemporaries and even neighbors.” Sitting with Omar and his family, the contrast between their focus on relationship and my own strongly individualist (U.S.) culture was striking.

“Indeed, such variations explain much of global conflict today,” my book proposes.

“It is important not to interpret these different focal points as a basis for value judgment. Convergent consciousness is not naïve and wrong, as many modern observers have assumed; instead it represents a capability that continues to be critical for our survival. And divergent thought cannot be considered more evolved, intelligent or important than relationship consciousness. In fact, it is becoming ever clearer that the divergent lens is catastrophic if taken as the only reasonable perspective. Each of the lenses is equally valid, representing a vital source of intelligence and capability. Together, they are the multiple faces of wisdom.”

Indeed: “If different societies today demonstrate different focal points, this may be cause not for derision or conflict, but for celebration: together, humanity has all the ingredients needed to reach full thrivability.”

When I posted on Facebook that I loved the Turkish coffee my new Syrian friends served me, my Kiwi friend Dave “Tex” Smith wrote: “This is part of the immigration story. To bring to each other our love and passion for life and ways of living.”

May we find much to learn from each other and many gifts to share.


Originally published at The Age of Thrivability.