A Christmas Message

The holiday season is a time for most Americans to enjoy cherished family traditions, renew friendships, and to share some time with those we love. For most Americans, but by no means all of us, the greatest risks are overspending, overeating, and overindulging in all the merrymaking. Not this year. This year we have been forcibly reminded that our lives are always lived on the edge of a cliff, and that war, terrorism, violence, and tragedies of all kinds can overwhelm us at any moment. It can be a terrifying revelation that most of us, most of the time, find ways to overlook. But not this year.

When we are confronted by the uncertainty and fragility of our lives, fear, resentment, and anger can emerge. Words are more readily misinterpreted, actions misconstrued, and mistrust becomes reflexive. The growing political and social divides in our nation can inflame our discontent and weaken the bonds that hold us together.

We, the community of the University of Rhode Island, cannot yield to these forces at any time, and especially not now. We should be thankful that we live in a nation that values liberty, the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of the press. We, as Rhode Islanders, should be particularly proud to live in the cradle of religious freedom in North America.

The value of these freedoms is greatly diminished if everything we read, or see, or hear – or everyone we speak with – is simply a reflection of ourselves and our values, thoughts, and perspectives. The diversity of our nation – of the peoples, religions, politics, and views that compose America – has always been, and will continue to be, a source of strength and inspiration.

It is the time of year when I and my family, along with the majority of Americans, and of our URI community, will celebrate Christmas – hence, the title of this post. Many members of our community do not celebrate this particular holiday, however. Simple politeness demands acknowledgement and consideration of this fact. As Americans who treasure the freedoms and rights bestowed upon us, and as members of a community devoted to equity and inclusion, we aspire to a higher standard: to welcome, value, support, and affirm all members of our community for who they are, regardless of their identity, religion, origin, or holiday traditions.

Given the vitriolic rhetoric so currently prominent (and I believe so completely inconsistent with the true significance of Christmas), I encourage our community to do all we can to support our Muslim colleagues and friends, and all those who may otherwise feel marginalized and excluded. Let us together commit to live out, to the best of our ability, what we have in common in this season of light: the basic human desires to experience and share love, joy, and the hope for a bright and peaceful future for everyone.