Now, More Than Ever, We Need Pluralism

This past Sunday I attended a baby shower for my expecting sister and brother-in-law, who will soon welcome their first child into the world. Earlier that morning I woke up to the news about the Orlando shooting. Just a few hours after the baby shower celebrations ended, as I wound down for the night and caught up on reactions to the massacre on social media feeds, I couldn't help but think about the nearly impossible task facing my sister and brother-in-law. I am not referring to parenting - though by no means is that an easy feat - but rather the responsibility of caring for, nurturing, and protecting a life in a world where, unfortunately, individuals are no longer safe simply for being themselves whether that be how they chose to worship, where they come from, who they chose to love, or simply what they look like.

While the shooter's exact intentions remain unknown, there is no denying that the events of Saturday night/Sunday morning somewhere find their base in homophobia and the shooter's fear of a way of living that he did not completely understand or did not reflect the norm to which he was accustomed. Recent acts of terror all find a root in the same fear of the unknown, and the statistics speak for themselves that these incidents are occurring with increasing and horrifying frequency.

What is almost more disturbing is that the same fear of the unknown that fuels these acts is often equally present in the reactions to these events. And this fear is churning a cycle of terror that is spiraling out of control.

As the daughter of South Asian parents, my future niece will likely face discrimination even before she's able to speak or stand up (literally) for herself. As her uncle, that fact is petrifying.

It's hard not to be angry, and being angry is acceptable. What's not acceptable is using that anger to fuel more hatred and fear. The world has more than enough of those as it is. Instead, it's time we turn our anger into a commitment to stand against such acts and, more importantly, a commitment to letting others live no matter whether we agree with how they choose to do so. Live and let live.

My parents migrated to this country, like so many others, because America represents a land of opportunity and equality for all. I grew up holding that to be a basic truth. And I still do. No matter how many times I have been racially profiled for extra airport TSA screenings or shot dirty and suspicious looks for speaking Hindi in public spaces, I still trust that the vast majority of Americans share and reflect a belief in equality for all.

The reactions of the LGBT community as they reel back and begin their own process of healing from this weekend's massacre are a testament to this faith in the humanity that binds us all. Their commitment to continue to love and welcome those who do not understand or choose to accept them is a demonstration of exactly what the world needs.

Two of the central philosophies of Jainism are ahimsa (non-violence) and anekantavada (pluralism, or multiplicity of views). At times like these, I am reminded of what these words really mean. Ahimsa is more than just abstaining from and preventing physical violence. Non-violence extends to your thoughts as well. And that's what anekantavada really is. Pluralism means accepting and allowing others to live and practice as they choose to even if their ideals do not resonate with your own beliefs.

The critical piece to the successful practice of pluralism and, coincidentally, what is missing in America and around the world more broadly today is mutual acceptance. Irrespective of your own personal beliefs and practice around religion, gender, and sexuality, as humans we all have a basic duty to stand up for each other's right to live and be as we choose to do so.

Hatred and fear of the unknown are not reasons to stop living, or loving.

Now, more than ever, we need pluralism. If not for your own sake and the safety of your loved ones, then for the sake of my soon-to-arrive niece. So that she, and all of us, may live in a world where we are not afraid to be.