One Month Later (from the POP Newsletter sent out on April 15 2019)

This newsletter is going out on the one month anniversary of the Christchurch terror attack. I had just started settling into my new community on the South Island when the tragedy unfolded. It left me numb. It's taken me a month to process.

As someone who's lived in the Middle East, studied its culture and politics, as well as reported extensively to "humanise" the Muslim community in the US, I was buoyed by what I observed after I moved to New Zealand. Friends of mine helping Syrian women learn to drive in Wellington. Neighbors helping collect donations for refugee families. At the Happiness Idea, we did a radio show on a local Muslim who started inviting strangers into his own home for "Coffee, Cake and Islam?" conversations.

I simply had a hard time believing what had happened when I heard the news about Christchurch. Though I wasn't naive enough to think it couldn't happen here, I lived in hope that it wouldn't. However, when I received anguished messages from friends and family around the world, I thanked them and simply said, "Watch how this country responds." 

From the extraordinary leadership exhibited by Prime Minister Ardern to the open-hearted and full-throated support of so many Kiwi citizens, I've been deeply impressed by the blend of strength, warmth and authenticity that New Zealand has portrayed to the world.

This tragedy provided a painful opportunity to see what inclusion, dialogue, courage, forgiveness as well as fast, united action looks like. 

But an "opportunity" isn't just a single moment in time. We are now on a journey, as individuals and as a community. While this is the "end of innocence" in New Zealand, it is also a new beginning. A chance to gain wisdom.

But it's not going to be easy.

I've witnessed friends and social media influencers share their renewed commitment to speak up when they hear misguided comments that promote casual racism or unconscious bias. 

However, I also know firsthand that often requires confronting people you love. Quite frankly, that can be extremely painful. Further divisions can even develop after courageous conversations like these. As an American, watching what's happened after President Trump was elected, I can tell you many stories of split friendships and families deeply divided over political views that have become value clashes.

So to be clear, it's not easy. But it's still vitally necessary.

We've also been given an opportunity to look inward, and challenge our own perspectives. I have started by looking at what I'm taking for granted. I will also revisit my many notes about Islam, revive my basic Te Reo, and make sure that I smile at the immigrant fruit pickers who seasonally populate Central Otago. I will also continue to reach out or just be there when necessary for friends who may be hurting, making sure they feel safe and loved.

It requires a constant effort to monitor and recalibrate to make sure you are taking into account other points of view. It's emotionally and mentally exhausting. And it may not produce noticeable results for a long time. But as experts have told us in so many ways, It's continued practice and daily effort that bring about change.

There is a similar theme that runs through my work as a mentor. In strategic messaging, you have to learn how to put yourself in someone else's shoes to see how you come across, to hear how your message lands, if you expect whatever you're trying to do to be effective.

It doesn't magically happen after you learn how to do it. It's a skill that needs to be repeated again and again and again in order to master.

If what's happened in the aftermath of the terror attack continues, I believe there are enough Kiwis who care enough and are committed to make change happen. 

At the time that President Trump was elected, I published an article on LinkedInfor people wanting to move to New Zealand.
I pointed out how the country, at the time, ranked among the  highest in the OECD for community and civic participation, adding "With just 4.7 million people, a ripple effect can happen quickly".

I described the kindness I've experienced since moving here and how this country was founded on the values of fairness, opportunity and equality that still seemed to matter. And to anyone who chooses to live here, I issued a challenge, "to learn, contribute, create, and find solutions to human problems that happen anywhere you choose to live in this world".

There's a lot of work to be done. Just in the past few days, a protestor wearing a Trump for NZ t-shirt was accused of harassing worshipers heading to prayers at the very mosque that was attacked. In one report I heard a witness say he told police but the officer defended the man's "right to free speech" and chose not to act. The suspect's since been identified and charges laid. The officer, who was not from Christchurch, left the city. He was not stood down.

We can't stand down. We must continue to challenge ourselves and those around us in order to create the world we want. To guarantee that phrase, "They are us" isn't just a slogan that will fade away as time passes.

Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to lead extraordinary lives. 
We all need to play a role in making sure that happens.


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