If you have a choice, choose compassion.
“Maybe that is how people are in big cities.” My family often hears this when we wonder about the rude and hostile behaviors we experience while visiting some major American cities. For me personally, that is not an acceptable or valid excuse. I believe that no matter what, our attitude is a choice that we make.
The story this time happened in Chicago, a city proud of its diversity and multiculturalism. We were excited the morning of December 29, 2022, as we intended to eat breakfast at a famous restaurant then explore an adjacent city landmark. Things did not go as planned, however.
First, the waiter was extremely rushed and so short of compassion that we felt unwelcome. He tried to justify that they were busy and short staffed. I understand that we might not present our best when overwhelmed, but attitude is a choice no matter the circumstances.
We then entered the next door building to take pictures and noticed that there were many other groups touring the place. It was unfortunately clear that a Muslim family was not welcome there as one security officer after another kept coming to my children with the most ridiculous of “rules” like don’t lean your head against the sofa or don’t put your bag on the floor—something told me to leave but it was time for prayer, so I went to a private corner and entered prayer. Someone started to interrupt me (a major insult to a Muslim) rather than wait until I finished the short intimate moment I had with God. He was clearly either uneducated, ignorant, or racist. He began yelling, “You can’t do this here! You can’t enter into someone’s house and just start praying! Are you ignoring me? I am calling backup.”
After finishing prayer, I went to talk with him and he refused to engage and instead kept saying, “This is a private property.” I asked if I could get his name, see his badge, or talk to a supervisor and he refused, saying, “I am the supervisor.” I asked for their policy about prayer, and he said that he does not have to show it to me. He told another security officer, “They can sit, eat, drink, but if any of them start praying call 911.” When he left, the other officers told us that there was an interfaith room in the building that the former officer could have pointed that out gently. They did not have the courage to speak up for us because their boss was clearly a bully. I understand that we might not be familiar with different culture backgrounds and faith traditions, but attitude is a choice.
Private businesses can enforce whatever rules that make sense to them, but coming from a trauma-informed and healing-centered background, I will always choose compassion. If someone came into my home or my place of employment and felt safe enough to pray, that would warm my heart. That is me, but I understand that not everyone chooses love, and at the end of the day, attitude is a choice.
I would encourage that we respect, honor, and celebrate each other’s cultures and religious practices. We should make the conscious choice to consistently look for what “the other” can teach us and appreciate the beauty they might bring to our lives.
Dr Reda is a psychiatrist in Colorado. He is the author of The Wounded Healer: The Pain and Joy of Caregiving.