Celebrating difference and embracing the unknown

The following is a guest post by Carolyn Yarina, co-founder and CEO of Sisu Global Health.

Sisu Global Health seeks to end healthcare disparities by developing medical technology that addresses critical needs in emerging markets. Each of their devices, both internally designed and acquired, are patented or patent-pending and address the issues of access to medical devices by considering each stakeholder throughout the value chain.


Over my 27 years, I’ve felt like an outside observer of religion. I grew up in a decidedly unreligious household. My mom was raised Protestant but didn’t agree with most organized religion, and my dad was atheist. The other woman who helped raise me, my babysitter, was Apostolic Lutheran. I grew up with friends predominantly of Christian faith. When I turned 18, I moved to Turkey to live with a Muslim family. In college, I traveled back-and-forth between India and the U.S. I even moved to India after graduating. My apartment was owned by a Sikh family and many of my friends were Hindu. To date, the only religious text I’ve read in its entirety is the Bhagavad Gita. Now, in my current company, in just a 6-person company and a 3-person board, I work with individuals who are Catholic, Protestant, Jain, Jewish, and Agnostic.

I learned so much from an early age about the world and about how beautiful diversity is. Both our differences and similarities make us stronger together.

What I’ve seen across cultures and across religions is that all of these religions impart similar moral compasses. I’ve had friends across all Abrahamic and most Eastern religions and the common thread that all express is how their religion helps them determine right and wrong and how to be a good person. Their religion encourages them to help those less fortunate than them, to value family, and to make the world a better place.

A Hindu friend once told me that her (oversimplified) interpretation of Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism was that Christianity tells you to do these things and you’ll be a good person, Islam says don’t do these things and you’ll be a good person, and Hinduism tells you to learn from these stories and to just be a good person. With my upbringing colored by a spectrum of religions, I was left asking how I could fit all of these experiences in my life to an idea of being a good person. Could a religious tradition guide this search? I wasn’t sure.

I honestly don’t understand the convictions expressed with such certainty that people of other religions are ‘bad’ people because their religion tells practitioners that the ‘other’ is bad. I’ve experienced this across the globe including in the U.S., Turkey, Ethiopia, and India. I have been told that Hindus are bad people until they are old enough to seek enlightenment. I’ve had people in Ethiopia tell me that Muslims are bad people because the Quran tells them to kill infidels.

I don’t understand these ignorant and uncomplicated views. The religions of this world and the people who believe in them are unbelievably complex. I consider myself a highly educated person. I have an engineering degree, I run my own company, and I read for fun. But what has always been beyond me is how one culture can make other cultures and other religions into black and white, good and bad. Despite my education, I admit that I am ignorant of the details and depths of other religions. And I admit this freely. Why is it so hard for people to admit that they don’t understand something? It is okay if I don’t fully understand your beliefs, but I respect them. I would love to learn more.

I think that what this world needs right now is perspective and understanding. Religion is not simple, nor should it be. It is deeply personal and deeply complex. Just because I, and others, don’t understand your beliefs doesn’t make them wrong. It makes it different. And in that difference there is beauty.

The ICJS Entrepreneurs Lunchtime Series (ELS) brings together local entrepreneurial leaders to discuss the role that religion and ethics can play in building healthy communities. In this initiative, the ICJS will contribute the perspectives of local Jews, Christians and Muslims to the public conversation about religion and ethics in Baltimore. Each contributor represents her or his own opinion. We welcome and lift up this diversity of perspectives.
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