Just Like Us — A Leo Sigh Project — people in other countries are the same as you

Why Just Like Us?

Recently, while watching videos from India, Thailand, Afghanistan and Brazil, I was struck by some of the bigoted, racist and just plain ignorant comments on some of them.

Comments from people who have likely never been to the countries where these videos were filmed. Or who have, and yet who still managed to keep their narrow-minded, bigoted world views. Even with evidence all around them they were not warranted.

But what struck me more than anything about the videos I watched, and the people in them, was that even though they were filmed in different countries and the people spoke languages other than my own, every single one of them was of people dealing with the same things I do.

Happiness, sadness, hope, pain, joy, longing, anger, frustration, love — all emotions every one of us feels.

A culture of social media bullying and abuse

So how did we get to this place?

A place where ordinary every day people just living their lives are subjected to barrages of bigotry, racism and abuse on the Internet. Simply because they live in another country. They speak another language. Their skin is a different color than our own.

And then I realized.

Governments, and the politicians in them, all around the world spend much of their time maligning other nations and other people.

Trump saying Mexicans are “rapists”, and other less developed countries “shithole countries”. British European Parliament MEP Godfrey Bloom calling countries in Africa “Bongo Bongo Land”.  Austrian far-right leader Heinz-Christian Strache, a ‘former’ neo-Nazi, and now a member of the Austrian government, proclaiming “No, Islam is not part of Austria”.

Politicians calling other leaders “terrorists” and “dictators”, just so they have an excuse to go to war.

And the news media, which spends most of its time promoting the terrible things that go on in other countries, rather than the millions more positive things happening there every day.

Pie, who lives on a tiny farm in northern Thailand, shows you what her mom does in a day. Farming in Thailand is a hard life, and Thai farmers work very hard for little money.

So, to some extent, it is no wonder when poorly-educated or bigoted people see videos of ISIS throwing gay men off rooftops, all Muslims suddenly become “terrorists”. Or when Thai bar girls are profiled in news stories about Bangkok, all Thai women are suddenly “prostitutes”.

No, politicians and the news media are not entirely to blame as, heaven knows, we should all be educating ourselves as to what is the reality outside our own countries.

But, when all many people see is the negative side of a country and a people, it often blows up their already bigoted thoughts (and let’s face it, we all have them) into something so enormous, before you know it they are on Facebook or YouTube leaving vile comments about someone in another country they have never met.

Hence…Just Like Us

So, I got to thinking, what if, instead of all the negative things we are shown every day about people in other countries, and the terrible things some of them do, we got to see the positive things?

Videos of people living their lives just like us.

People falling in love, getting married, having children. Men and women saving animals, helping kids get an education, laughing with their grandparents, playing jokes on their dad.

Young Muslim men working in charities and doing everything they can to make their world a better place. Chinese grandmothers teasing their grandchildren. Educated and successful Thai women running businesses. Austrians running charities to help refugees or the environment. Brazilian women making local food and taking care of their kids. Immigrant Syrian men cooking in restaurant kitchens in Germany, and hoping their dream of living in a peaceful country comes true.

People in every country around the world — with hopes and dreams and goals. With families and friends and lives. People just like us.

Mark Wiens, a Bangkok-based writer and vlogger, on holiday in Mexico City and showing  you what life is like in the trendy area of Roma Norte.

Just Like Us — A Leo Sigh Project — People in Other Countries are Just Like Us

That is why a new project is kicking off on Leo Sigh this week. A project called Just Like Us.

Once a day, twice a day, several times a day — depending on what I find, and what I think is interesting — from now on, there will be a Just Like Us article on Leo Sigh showing people around the world, and the normal, every day, interesting, funny, sweet, kind, touching, brave things they do.

Just like us.

Because when we start to think everyone in the world is just like us, just wanting a happy life for themselves, their family and friends, then we start to look at everyone else differently.

And maybe, the next time a video pops up in our YouTube feeds showing a man in Syria baking bread in the only building standing in an otherwise bombed out street, just so he can make enough money to feed his family, the cries of “terrorist” might be fewer. The supportive comments might be more. And the bigoted, racist, homophobic, misogynistic comments less likely to be accepted or approved.

For the first few videos in our Just Like Us project — watch the four embedded in this article.

  1. A train driver in China rushes to another train parked in a station, just so he can spend two minutes with his girlfriend who is an employee on the train before they both have to continue on with their jobs.
  2. Pie, a single mother in northern Thailand, working on her family’s small subsistence farm and showing you what her elderly mother does on the farm in a typical day.
  3. Mark Wiens, an American travel writer and vlogger who has lived and worked all over the world, but is now married to a Thai and based in Bangkok, takes you on a tour of the trendy Roma Norte area of Mexico City.
  4. The powerful UNHCR video of Cate Blanchett, Keira Knightley, Juliet Stevenson, Peter Capaldi, Stanley Tucci, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kit Harington, Douglas Booth, Jesse Eisenberg and Neil Gaiman reading the poem ‘What They Took With Them‘, showing people who are refugees fleeing from their own country are ‘just like us’.

Because, yes, while most people around the world may speak a different language to you, have a different culture, eat different food, believe in a different religion and, in many cases, have a different colored skin, the reality is this — everywhere around the world people are — just like us.

Look out for the first post in our new Just Like Us project in the next few weeks.

The UNHCR project ‘What They Took With Them’ — spoken poetry about the lives of refugees, and the things they took with them to remind them of home.

Michelle Topham