By Justin Ho
“Why?” a stranger asked me. I had finally found out what I wanted to write on the wall. This past January, after being inspired by a TED lecture given by Candy Chang, a couple of friends and I decided to bring a “Before I Die” wall to the UCI campus. We constructed a 32 ft x 8 ft self-standing chalkboard with the words “Before I die, I want to _______.” spray painted all over it, and we left chalk out for students and faculty to openly and anonymously express their own passions, bucket lists items, and aspirations. We received an incredibly positive reaction not only from the Irvine community, but managed to spark a conversation across California.
“Before I die, I want to give people a reason to believe in themselves,” I wrote.
“Why?” I began to explain to this spectator why believing and having faith in something really drives people to accomplish things that they never even considered possible. Simply believing in someone helps chip away at the wall of doubts and insecurities that are obstructing him or her from reaching their next-level of capabilities.
“Have you considered what happens after you die?” I should have seen this coming. I was now engaging in a conversation about religion. Something, quite frankly, people intentionally try to avoid considering the controversial topic and inevitable debate of facts and beliefs. People have the freedom to say what they want, I get that. I just cringe every time there is a passive aggressive conversation about faith between two people of different beliefs. It always seems like a replayed infomercial and each opposing product has an argument to counter each point. “This product is way better than this product because of this.” “Your product is clearly inferior because of these reasons thus making my product infinitely better than yours.” How often do we see these interactions ending with smiles (real smiles)? Rarely. It always ends the way most heated arguments end: frustration, shouting, walking away, saying things under your breath, etc.
“Have you thought about immortality?” I learned that this man was a missionary from the Midwest. He and his church had a program that sent missionaries around the United States to spread the word of Christianity and shed light on individuals who have yet to accept Him into their lives. That weekend he had an event nearby in Irvine and decided to stop by campus to discuss Christ with young adults like myself.
“Where does your faith stem from?” Up to this point, I kept my comments passive. I courteously heard him out but contributed little to the conversation. I had a secular upbringing. By association of my parents, I am Buddhist. Other than the passing of my grandparents, I have had very little interaction with religion. I’ve read some books on Buddhism and am intrigued by some aspects of the religion, but I haven’t practiced enough to truly consider myself a Buddhist. Not yet, at least. However, I have met many individuals with strong religious ties and faiths and have personally attended their milestone events including baptisms and bar mitzvahs. I’ve been able to experience how faith plays a significant role in people’s lives through my friends.
If I’m all about belief, where does it stem from? I started to have an actual conversation with him. I began by first emphasizing my utmost respect for people of faith. It is a beautiful thing when individuals find their own connection to something that pushes them to become a better person. Whether it be God, gods, deities, friends, idols, or an idea, faith drives individuals to become something more than what they initially believe themselves to be. Whether or not I walk a religious path, I walk a path of faith and with good intentions.
The root of my faith is of little concern to me; my main focus on what I do with it.
“What you are doing is truly inspirational,” I said to this man. It is a tremendous notion to travel around the country to spread faith, the same faith that has enlightened him to become the person he is. What he has faith in has given him the power and strength to be vulnerable and make humble attempts to preach to others. He spoke to me in such a respectful manner, I couldn’t help but feel blessed knowing there are people who are willing to offer their perspective on life and actually be open to hearing the perspective of others. The conversation was not an argument but a discussion of what is great about each others’ beliefs. “What you are doing is truly inspirational, too,” he said to me. He loved the idea of the wall and thanked our team for bringing it to campus. Though two different faiths merged in that conversation, the mutual consensus was that faith is quintessential to leading life. We shook hands, both surprised and satisfied at how our chat turned out. We walked away with smiles knowing that we both walked positive paths.
Faith is so important in every aspect of our lives. What drives us to do good, can help drive and inspire others to do good. I hold to the concept that believing in others gives them a platform to begin believing in themselves. Whether the times are gold or gruesome, knowing that someone or something is watching over us and believing in our abilities truly ameliorates doubt and uncertainty.
Often we are too focused on why others are wrong or why our way of thinking is so correct. We spend too much time criticizing other people’s ways of living. I firmly believe that our relationship with our faith is ultimately up to us and should not be conflicted by other’s view upon it. What if we were more curious about what kind of faith makes people amazing? How can we start to truly appreciate that there are multiple avenues to happiness and success that are uniquely tailored to each individual?
On a recent San Francisco trip, I visited the Donaldina Cameron House. This place is a Chinatown-based multi-service agency serving Asian communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Motivated by their Christian commitment to promote healthy communities, they have served individuals, immigrant families, and youth since 1874. Offering refuge and activities for the Chinese youth, the house helped keep children off the streets and promoted positive and constructive life lessons and morals. Coincidentally when I visited, an alumni of the house was visiting as well. Through absolute genuine kindness, he offered to give me a tour of the establishment. He waived the front desk’s policy of having a guest permit for visitors to go about the building. I expected a lesson in God’s work and how the house was His work, but I learned more about the history of the place and how it stood as a sanctuary for the Chinese population in San Francisco’s Chinatown. At the end of the impromptu tour through most of the floors, he then brought me up to the rooftop basketball court that overlooked the city.
The movie Pursuit of Happyness was filmed in SF and one of the scenes was at that exact same basketball court. In that scene, Chris Gardner tells his son to refrain from wasting his time practicing basketball because he’ll probably never end up becoming successful playing it. His son, discouraged, drops the ball and walks away. Realizing his mistake, the father tells his son:
“Don’t ever let somebody tell you can’t do something… You got a dream, you gotta protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they wanna tell you, you can’t do it. If you want something, go get it. Period.”
Everything came together at that moment. Aside from small side comments, the alumni didn’t mention anything about Christianity or faith or churches or God. He simply gave me a tour of the place and educated me on the charities of the house.
“I just wanted to help expand your perspective about what we do here, and how you can always make an impact,” he chuckled with a huge grin on his face.
His religious background was irrelevant at that point. What stood out was his altruistic intentions of introducing a new perspective. No doubt his demeanor was a result of his faith. Faith is important, what is done with it up to us. We have a dream, we have a vision, we want to positively affect the world, nobody can tell us that we cannot do it. The people who truly believe in us or in our beliefs help us overcome own own demons to make the unbelievable happen.
What clearly challenges my perspective is the judgment of what is right and wrong. Some people believe in themselves and believe in things that make them into monsters. We’ve seen people have their confidence and ego blown up beyond belief. We’ve seen some people become a mess or watch them go down the wrong path. Along with believing that what they are doing is right, these individuals are surrounded by peers who fail to keep their friend in line, fail to constructively criticize their friend, or are simply bad influences.
As you know, there are also many cases where people believe in some idea that drives them to do malicious acts. I cannot deny this fact. I turn on the news and all I hear is about the next “crazy” who has a history of terrible upbringings that drove him/her to do something terrible. Of course, in these situations the individual had faith in something and acted upon it. Extremist views litter the news media. This is where stereotypes and anti-this anti-that are born.
Where there is light, there will always be darkness. Faith undoubtedly can be twisted and bring negativity to this world. However, faith can also bring positive things to life. People of faith–whether religious or not–each bring something to the table that you may or may not choose to believe. People are different, and thus are entitled to different beliefs and mindsets. What cannot be denied is that those who are positively motivated by faith are those who will do positive things for this world.
If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you to challenge yourself to look into other’s faith background with fascination than with condescension. Do not only tolerate, but respect other people’s faiths and be inspired by them.
Take time to show that you have faith in your friends and family, and most importantly remember to have faith in yourself.
Photo Source: Alex Kim, Justin Ho