TED Tuesday: Sam Wazan

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This post is the third of our “TED Tuesday” series, where RV-ers share key takeaways from TEDxCharlotte 2015 and keep the discussions going long after the closing remarks. 

Worthless? Not Hardly

“I wish you to know first of all, that you are worthless.”

Sam Wazan didn’t aim those words to insult a suddenly hushed audience at TEDxCharlotte. In starting The Frontier of Peace: Courage in Harmony with them, he dredged up a past that he can’t forget – especially as he sees echoes of it bubbling up today. Wazan heard those words – often – growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, during that country’s civil war.

Don’t know about that war? It ran from 1975 to 1990, accomplishing about 120,000 deaths and not much else. All in the name of religion.

“I wish you to know first of all, that you are worthless.”

Wazan told a harrowing story of a job interview in the Christian sector of Beirut. To get there, he circled a wall of snipers, then dodged through a makeshift battleground – sand puffs all around him representing bullets.

He expected a group of friendly – even if intense – interviewers to greet him. Instead, there was just one general manager, who wouldn’t hire Wazan despite a good interview. Bad enough, but it got worse. The GM’s assistant tried to comfort Wazan, saying “You’re a good Muslim man.” As if that were something unusual. The words penetrated where the bullets had missed. “All I wanted was to be seen as a unique individual with a unique journey and aspirations,” he said.

“I wish you to know first of all, that you are worthless.”

Wazan got out in 1989, emigrating to the U.S. – eventually Charlotte. His American Dream – to be done with fighting and factions and sects and all of it. “I wanted everything to do with the land of the free, and nothing to do with the home of the brave,” he says.

Things changed, starting with 9/11 and its aftermath. “Never Forget” – words used to commemorate the victims of the bombings turned into a call for revenge. With deep concern, Wazan feels that “the American dream is gradually transforming into every human’s nightmare.”

Observing the growing tension, stereotypes and evil influences so prevalent now, he believes that “religious convictions and ethnic, cultural lines are hardening in the United States.” Some differences have turned into religious crusades, with politicians caring more about winning debates than crafting compromises.

The answer, he says, starts within every family. “Parents must teach children to filter evil enablers,” he says, and to reject conflict.  “Unsubscribe from all of this. In that family room, we need to not let thoughts of revenge dry the tears of sorrow.” His vision: “a world of citizens with uniqueness regardless of ethnical, cultural and sexual orientation.”

“I wish you to know first of all, that you are worthless.”

He knows religious wars – the deadly mix of guns, gripes and dogma. “I saw the work of soldiers of Moses, Jesus and Abraham, They had one thing in common. They committed evil.”

He’s right. The family room must come into play – before it becomes a bunker. We have to teach our children the folly of making everything a crusade. We have to use our words wisely and find ones that foster attitudes of acceptance, kindness and peace. Words Matter, you know.

We can’t be worthless.

Margaret Smith joined the Red Ventures team in June 2015. She’s a Copywriter for RVPower and a recent graduate of Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!). With a degree in English, Margaret has a passion for reading and writing. She spends her spare time exercising, watching way too much Netflix and keeping up with Virginia Tech athletics.

Arthur Murray has championed words at Red Ventures since November 2011. He’s an editor on Red Ventures Insurance, a Tar Heel fan, a husband, father and grandfather, and a mentor to anyone who’ll listen. And he never forgets. 

Want more from TEDxCharlotte? Check out last week’s post, Life Lessons from a Local Shaman.

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