“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.” ~ Max de Pree
Yesterday, on a whim, I posted a picture of an absurdly flavoured bar of Australian chocolate on my facebook page with the caption Dear Vegemite Chocolate, I love you. That is all. <3
I was not expecting much interaction, but this bizarre flavour combination certainly sparked some discussion.
Including a comment from someone who ‘would not buy Cadbury because their profits go to support halal…’
Now here’s the thing. I’m psychic. Psychic and highly empathic. And that one little comment had a motherload of emotional charge behind it. It was a charge so strong I couldn’t ignore it.
I asked the writer if they were unhappy about Cadbury having halal certified products. Although it was a courtesy. I knew the answer already. Yes, you could interpret that from their comments and angry emoticons, but I was also reacting to this aggression that sat behind the words.
Which made me sad. Very, very sad, because here I was posting a photo of a weird chocolate combo that had made me curiously happy, and here was someone being passive-aggressive about Muslims in my happy space.
In fact, this flood of emotion that hit me got me out of bed (I was trying to have an early night) and back down at my computer, after I had a conversation with my husband about the angry comment.
Boot them off, my husband said. Block them. Forget about it. Go and get some sleep.
But when I felt into the person who had written the comment, I knew that wasn’t the answer.
I tried a little humour first, mixed with some non-emotional fact.
Halal certification is a business decision that allows many Australian products to reach a wider export market. I have no problem with that. And if Muslims throughout the world can enjoy Cadbury Vegemite chocolate perhaps it will lead to greater cultural understanding and world peace. Yes, this chocolate is that good! It is just a little misunderstood.
That didn’t help. The person felt I was making my own comment based upon my ignorance. And I also knew that at the heart of their stance was this place of fear and judgement and anger.
I’d just wanted to talk about yummy chocolate. But instead I found myself thinking about friends here in Australia who own a dairy. I thought about all they had gone through after making a business decision to help their farm remain viable. I thought about my many friends and clients who are judged, alienated and misunderstood every day, and I knew I had to stay up, typing in my pyjamas, because I have values and I need to stand by those values.
I shared my story:
You’re entitled to your view, and you can vote with your dollar. Here’s my view: I have a friend who owns an Australian dairy. Times are hard for dairy farmers, when costs are rising and the product price in supermarkets is falling. Their family now exports milk to Malaysia, and they went through halal certification to help grow their business, which is a significant employer in a country area. Halal certification meant that their milk was proven to contain no alcohol, no pork etc. For this business decision my friends, their families and staff ended up with abusive phone calls, death threats, vandalism and other despicable acts.
If you buy a product that has the tick from the National Heart Foundation, that company PAID for that certification. Same with certified kosher, organic, halal, gluten-free and cruelty-free products. My friends include Muslims, Jews, Pagans, Druids, Gluten Intolerants, Disabled People, Aborigines, Gays, Lesbians and Transgender folk, Vegans, Vegetarians, Suburbanites, Greenies, Artists and Writers and Full-On Carnivores. I have already disclosed that I have friends with a Halal certified business. Our own business is certified organic. I have a friend who drives a Volvo. I also like Vegemite Chocolate. Some of this is pretty objectionable stuff. If you object to certification, fine. But if this is an anti-Muslim stance please defriend me and get off my page.
The person responded again, and I could feel the hurt in their response. They accused me of being irate and told me I could block them if I didn’t like what they liked, and that they were a very caring person with certain people.
And there, there was the crux of it. My initial feeling had been right all along.
Their first response to my delicious chocolate bar had been to be triggered into an anti-Muslim sentiment.
I slumped in my chair with the truth of it. Tears pricked my eyes. I do believe this person is caring. I am also sure that their world has seldom been enriched through meeting and getting to know people of different cultures and beliefs. Had they had that opportunity they wouldn’t be sprouting the kind of misinformed propaganda that floods facebook masquerading as fact, from which they had made their ‘authoritative’ comment.
I thought of how differently this post might have turned out if this person, some of my Muslim and other friends had been sat around my kitchen table, enjoying a cup of tea, sharing some food and talking, in the way of ordinary good people everywhere. Discovering how much we have in common, and how our diversity makes us such a rich and beautiful humanity.
My final response was this:
I’m not irate. Just saddened. You’re entitled to your views, as I said. But so am I. If you can only be caring to ‘certain people’, and the people you can’t be caring to include some of my friends, then I’m sorry, but I will stand up for those friends every time. I stand for inclusion, not intolerance.
After which, they apologised. Because I know, deep down, that this person holds that same value. That they will stand up for their friends.
So, that’s it.
I stand for inclusion.
I stand up for my friends.
I welcome you all to my table.
Kindness. Inclusion. Chocolate. Peace and Understanding.