Dear Friends,

If there’s a theme that runs through nearly all of the writing I’ve done, it stems from what I’ve learned, over and over, while traveling and meeting all kinds of different people, all around the world. That lesson is this: we are all the same. At heart, we all have the same concerns, the same dreams, the same fears, the same foibles and prejudices, and the same hopes. This applies as much to the people I grew up with in Western Pennsylvania as it does to the people from the tiny Muslim village in Sri Lanka where my father-in-law grew up. It applies as much to my African-American cousins as it does to my Mexican-American roommate in college. We are all the same. This may sound simplistic, or naive. It’s not. It is TRUTH, and it’s the most basic response we can form when someone tries to tell us that THEY pose some sort of threat to US. These definitions, “us” and “them,” do not exist, except in our minds. They are the product of fear and ignorance. We have a choice. We can either give in and allow them to define our reality, or we can see them for the illusions they are.

Over the past year, we have watched as racial, religious and culturally-based violence and intimidation has increased, and intolerance and xenophobia has taken firmer root in the United States. This is not a uniquely American phenomenon. It’s part of a global trend of attempting to separate groups of people into “us” and “them.” While I hope that it is not the beginning of something much worse, it nevertheless demands a response.

If you have a voice for tolerance and humanity, or some capacity to spread stories of compassion and empathy, or even simply the ability to connect with another human being who may come from somewhere unfamiliar to you, right now might be a pretty good time to pull it out of wherever you keep it, dust it off, and put it to good use. We like to look back at some specific time in the past and think that, had we been there, we would have been on the right side of history. That time is now.

I don’t have any illusions. I understand that prejudices tend to stick. One of the easiest positions to adopt is that of the dismissive skeptic. I don’t know if the stories I have to tell—the stories we all have to tell— will impact many people, or open many eyes, or change many minds.

But I’m going to try.