We will!

Most of the stories I read at school in Iran seemed to end with a moral conclusion. Unfortunately, only some of those words of wisdom have stayed with me. The following story is one.

A father asked his four sons to each bring him a stick, about the size of a cane. He put the sticks together, tied them, and asked the boys to try and break the bundle. As expected, they failed. Then he asked each of them to take one of the sticks and break it in half. Strong men, they did that without difficulty. “You see my sons, this should teach you the importance of unity,” he said. “As four brothers, so long as you stay together, no one can break you!”

Recently I am reminded of this story on a daily basis, in particular while reading some of the articles written by my fellow Iranians. I wonder why we are so critical of our own, why are Iranians so divided? I am not aware of any studies to back up my theory, but perhaps the roots of this problem are in our culture.

This occurred to me years ago when my daughter — who attended kindergarten — invited me to her singing performance. Remembering my own childhood concerts, I felt proud of my child for keeping the family torch aflame.

“What will you sing?” I asked.

“It's a secret! We're not supposed to tell.”

So I dressed up for the occasion and my husband and I made sure to arrive early and take front row seats.

Before the program started, all classes — all  two hundred students — marched in accompanied by their teachers. They sat in rows across from the audience and took turns to sing group songs. As I listened to the soft melody I found it hard to hold back my tears. My daughter wasn't the star. They all were.

That marked the beginning of yet another cultural awareness. I became conscious of a distinct difference between my children's education and mine. They form groups and achieve their goals as a team, while we longed to be the best, the one who stood out, the top student. We worked hard to be recognized as exceptional, not to mention that our parents bragged about us being so, even when we weren't.

As a minority in this country — or anywhere else in the world — it is of vital importance to practice unity. It is so much easier, and far more enjoyable, to be a team. Why be singled out? If we can succeed to achieve something, who cares under whose name it is done? Why can't we grow together? The world seems to have put us under an unkind magnifying glass. Do we have to add to their insults? How easy it is to break us when we have grown apart. How tragic it is that we are in fact willing to break one another!

I look at some of the articles and wonder where will our strive for attention take us? Who is better? No, I'll re-phrase that. Are any of us any better? Are we not all the same? Can our education, wealth, or other achievements transform us into Europeans and Americans? Or are we all, as Khayyam put it, made of the same clay?

The discussion may never end. At least not unltil the significance of “we” versus “I” is learned. Cultural awareness, and the knowledge of how we were brought up, should help. Innocent children, we did as told. Our parents pushed us and we competed. In the end we either enjoyed the glory or suffered the humiliation. Grown up as we may be, deep down there's a child who continues to look for that recognition. It's time to realize that pointing out other's flaws is not going to make us look better.

The way we are growing apart, it won't be hard to break us. True that unity is not learned overnight. Also true that change will take time. But isn't it also true that a strong community needs understanding, unity, and compassion?

Forget better. Can't we just be good?

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance writer, poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.

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