On a recent lecture tour in Malaysia, I met a “busker”, a street performer who was working in hopes of tips. This man was disabled and had an artificial leg. He was sitting on the dirty pavement and playing an old weathered guitar as he did his best to sing popular tunes, many of them from American artists.
Normally, I will just leave a tip and walk on by, but on this day, I stopped to listen. He seemed to really enjoy his music as he sang with a stack of handwritten lyrics and chords in his lap. His leg was crossed with the artificial leg and his pants were tattered, as was his T-shirt. I felt the impulse to connect with him so I gave him a generous tip and asked if I could sing a song with him. Surprised by my request, he said yes, and I sat down on the pavement next to him.
I asked his name and he said, “Halif”. This name in Arabic means: Ally, Confederate or One Who Takes An Oath.
He asked, “What do you want to sing?” I said, “Anything from the older American music. Do you know any Eagles’ songs?” He said, “I know Hotel California!”
I said, “I, too, am a guitarist.” He asked if I wanted to play his guitar. Of course, I did!
I started playing the intro as he fished through his notes to find the lyrics. Then we began to sing. The pedestrian crowd that usually passed on by began stopping to listen.
As we shared this special musical experience I was lost in the song and so was Halif. An audience formed and people started dropping more tips. Then Halif began to play percussion on his artificial leg! Now we had drums! This was as natural as breathing in that moment, neither of us thought it the least bit odd or out of place. When we finished the song, a big applause arose from the by standers. Halif and I were both happy souls. I could have stayed with him all afternoon, but my group was moving on and I needed to join them.
I returned his guitar to his calloused hands and asked if we could take a selfie together. He happily agreed. I put my arm around his shoulder, and he did the same to me. We smiled sincerely, no posing needed, and then we parted ways.
I felt a special kinship with Halif. We are of different races, cultures, countries, primary languages, circumstances and ages, but we had a moment as brothers. If he lived nearby my home, I would happily invite him over for a meal and some music together. Music is truly the universal language. But this is about more than music. Halif and I could never have connected in this way if either of us were concerned about our differences. The same is true for everyone.
When we notice and focus on our differences, the gaps between us grow. When we focus on our commonalities, the gap disappears! People often complain of racism and then they cite statistics regarding race. How about just ignoring race? Treat people as people. Colors, beliefs, and places of origin are meaningless if we don’t focus on them.
It’s behavior that matters. What you do is far more important than which God you worship, which school you attended, what color your skin is, or what might have happened to your ancestors long ago. Male or female only counts when you are considering romance. In day to day life, gender doesn’t matter, nor does political party. We need to be concerned about performance, about what people do or don’t do.
When you remove the judgmental filters and just connect with people, you will find that some magical experiences are created. I hope you have the same feelings that I experienced that day while singing the duet with Halif. Ask yourself with each new person, “What do we have in common?”
“Every person is in some way, my superior. In that, I can learn from him.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson