Looking beyond difference to see the common humanity

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What does it mean to strive for social justice?

It’s quite an overused yet misunderstood term so to put it quite simply, it is about trying to remove barriers and promote equality. It’s something we do every day and today, it’s more important than ever.

Each year on this day, February 20, the United Nations draws our attention to the important issue of Social Justice.

This year, the theme of World Day of Social Justice is focused on the plight of migrant workers and their quest for social justice. As the UN says, most migration today is linked directly or indirectly to the search for decent work opportunities.

The area in which Samaritans works stretches from as far north as Kempsey, out to the Upper Hunter and Central West, through Newcastle and down to the Central Coast. These areas alone have welcomed thousands of migrants who have come to Australia for work, to join family or on humanitarian visas.

Migration is certainly a feature in national and international news these days, and it’s the negative sentiment brewed by media commentators and politicians that’s of real concern.

We are in a time where some governments create policies to demonise refugees and others talk of building border walls.

The rising xenophobia, or fear of foreigners, can be attributed to this swirling sentiment that not only features in our newspapers and on our TVs, but we hear it from our neighbours or friends or even family. To challenge these opinions we must first understand why they are so pervasive, and here’s one simple way of looking at it.

Despite the second half of the word, xenophobia is not a “phobia” in the same way someone may be fearful of spiders or heights. It is an unreasonable fear. It’s a distrust, or hatred of strangers, foreigners, or anything perceived as different. This is often associated with racism and extreme patriotism.

At a very basic level, xenophobia is a fear of something different. As soon as migrants are discussed as a “them”, and we think of ourselves as an “us”, a dangerous difference is created. They become different to us. Their different language or custom or dress suggests they don’t fit with us. This fear of difference fuels the political agendas of those who want to exclude migrants. But when we strip away the difference and labels, are we not all humans with a common desire to belong? To live in safety and with purpose?

At Samaritans, we look beyond difference to see the common humanity of all people.

As the social welfare arm to the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle, Samaritans practices a compassion toward all people.

‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Matthew 25:35-36

Samaritans outreach and chaplaincy is the living work of this verse. Our Emergency Relief services provide immediate needs of food to those who may be struggling to get by and having to choose between paying bills and putting dinner on the table. Samaritans accommodation and refuge services provide shelter to youth facing homelessness and women and children fleeing violent homes. Samaritans even operates four shops selling second hand clothes and quite often people who come through these shops are given extra information on our Emergency Relief centres if they are going through a tough time. Samaritans chaplains are based in organisations, prisons and hospitals around the Diocese and support those who are in need.

All people deserve belonging. If we see the common humanity amongst us, we can strip away the fear. And once there is no fear, difference can be celebrated. There is certainly a lot we can learn from the history, hardships and hopes of our fellow human beings.

Today on World Day of Social Justice and every day, will you see a human being and not a label? What is important is what brings us together, not what makes us different.