It's rare that a bumper sticker actually makes a good point, but whenever I see one of those "coexist" bumper stickers, I can't help but agree.
If you haven't seen them before, they use different theological symbols to spell out the word "coexist." The message is clear: we don't all have to believe the same thing, but we do all need to find a way to peacefully coexist in this shared space that we call life.
Unfortunately, these days it seems like whenever two people have differing beliefs, we can be tempted to see this difference as an excuse to completely disregard the other person. The problem with this all-or-nothing thinking is that it ignores the fact that various people's experiences and perspectives can be equally valid.
If someone else needs more help than you do, that doesn't make them wrong; it means their circumstances are different than yours.
If someone else is struggling with a health problem, that doesn't make them weak; it means their days might be more difficult than yours.
If someone else makes a mistake, that doesn't make them bad; it means they may need help finding a better way forward.
In each of these cases, rather than judging the other person or finding a reason to write them off, we instead have the opportunity to reach out to them and offer a helping hand, or to at least give them the space to coexist alongside us. It's an opportunity for us to empathize with their situation, and to also be thankful for the ways that we can offer help or grace in this moment — because sooner or later, we'll surely be the ones who will need empathy from someone else.
Empathy is what helps us all coexist together. It allows teams of individuals who may believe or behave in very different ways to to still find common ground and work towards the common good. It's also a lesson that we never run out of chances to learn and practice, by setting an example for our kids and for each other.
By seeing other people with empathy instead of judgment, we'll be slower to anger, faster to forgive, and quicker to help. And when it's our turn to need empathy from others, hopefully we'll be met not by frustration, but instead with kindness, patience, and a helping hand.