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Reflections from Disney World

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Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to visit Disney World for the first time in about ten years. While it may not be as “magical” an experience as it was when I was a kid, I still always come away from Disney feeling happy, like something has been set right in the world. Walt Disney himself was not the most open-minded individual (to put it nicely), but he still managed to create a theme park with rides that send very important messages out into the world. No ride exhibits this as much as the ride that’s been my favorite since I was little: It’s a Small World.

A lot of people (my husband included!) complain about It’s a Small World. They say the song is annoying, the ride is too long, and the portrayal of people from all over the world is stereotyped at best and blatantly disrespectful at worst. While I do see what they’re saying about the last part, I have always chosen to look past that and see the underlying message of the ride and the song. It’s about acceptance, love, and understanding. It’s saying that no matter where people come from, we are all people, and we are inherently the same: human. To be honest, my only real criticism of the ride has always been that they don’t include the second verse of the song, which is my favorite part and also conveys the message of the song better than the other parts of the song do. Pardon me while I get this stuck in your head:

“There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone
Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide
It’s a small world after all.”

Sure, it’s a simplistic, annoyingly catchy children’s song. But the message it holds is so powerful, and we should all take heed. No matter one’s age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or country of origin, we all look up at the same moon and the same sun in the sky. We may be separated geographically by mountains and oceans, but we all share the same Earth. Most importantly, no matter who you meet, if you smile at them, they will know that you are offering acceptance and friendship. We should all smile more.

This blog is a great example of exactly what I’m talking about. Our writers come from all over the world. We come from all different backgrounds, different religions, genders, ages, and sexual orientations. Yet here we are, all contributing together to create this safe space of acceptance in our little corner of the internet. It doesn’t matter that we don’t all speak the same languages, that we have different views on various issues, that we are male, female, or neither, that we are gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, or whatever other labels we choose to identify ourselves by. All that matters is that we share a common desire to make the world a better place – a place where people are accepted as people, regardless of their background or identifying labels. We are extending the metaphorical “smile” from the song out into the world at large, with the hopes that people will take notice, accept our offering, and even pay it forward by extending their own gestures of acceptance and friendship out into the world. And at the core of these gestures is the understanding that we are all human.

Maybe I’m na├»ve for thinking that other people can get this same effect from visiting Disney World as I get. Then again, maybe not. While we were there, we saw people from many countries all over the world walking around the park, riding the same rides, and enjoying their day. On It’s a Small World, at the end of the ride, they have signs saying “goodbye” in many different languages. When we approached that area, I saw people from multiple different cultures pointing as they recognized their own language in the mix, and the smiles on their faces were priceless. Every person on that ride was able to see their own culture somewhere in the ride. There was a religious Jewish family sitting directly in front of us, and when we passed through the Israel section of the ride, several of their kids were pointing excitedly and telling their parents, “look, that’s like us!” And at the end of the ride, it was the parents’ turn to get excited as they pointed out the Hebrew word “shalom” (meaning goodbye, in this case) to the kids. And most importantly, nobody on the ride was judging them for it. Nobody looked at anyone else suspiciously, regardless of their obvious cultural differences. Everyone was simply enjoying the shared experience of being a part of the human race. Everything else was checked at the door, and that is an amazing thing to witness.

So the next time you start to feel down about the state of the world, try to remember that there is a magical place where everyone can get along and see each other simply as people, without any caveats. If we can all try to carry this message into our own lives, as we are doing with this blog, hopefully it will continue to spread until one day, the world will be much closer to that ideal state of acceptance and understanding of all people.
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