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CORRESPONDENTS: One Woman's View

Contributing writer

Sometimes I tell young people to beware of whatever embarrasses them most about their parents, because that is what they will be like in 30 years. As a teenager, I cringed when my parents struck up conversations with total strangers. Over the years, I have learned that talking to strangers holds the possibility of making new friends and learning something.

A week or two ago a stranger in the café noticed my leprechaun hat (another practice which would mortify my teenage children, if I had any) and told me he and his family had been hosts, a couple of years ago, to two teenagers from Northern Ireland for a month in the summer. Pursuing the subject, I learned about an exciting sociological experiment called the Ulster project.

Each summer, Catholic and Protestant youth from Ulster spend a month with host families in the U.S. The teenagers and their host families work together on various projects. The objective is to promote understanding and better relationships between Catholics and Protestants.

It is gratifying to think that people in another country believe Americans can teach their young people something about getting along with one another. Before we feel smug about that, let’s ponder the great responsibility implied. Are we, as a nation, sterling examples of the way people should treat one another? Do we love and respect people in spite of the differences in race, ethnicity, religion, financial status, politics, or sexual orientation? I am afraid we have a long way to go, if we wish to show the world a caring and compassionate society.

Less dramatic manifestations of antagonism and lack of respect among the citizens of our nation can be seen every day in the way we sometimes treat one another — in hostility toward those who are different or scorn for those who are less fortunate.

It pleases me that someone in Northern Ireland thinks America is a good place for their young people to learn good will and respect. I deeply hope their confidence in us will become less and less misplaced. When Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” he did not say except for anyone with whom you disagree or to whom you feel superior. Let’s try to remember that.

Last modified March 25, 2010

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