Have you found yourself despairing over the stories you read in the news lately? I’m thinking at the moment about the violence and tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia last month, the controversy over Civil War monuments, and the intensity around the NFL players’ protests, but I could really talk about any number of other incidents that highlight just how divided we seem to be. It breaks my heart.

Sri Swami Satchidananda, the founder of Integral Yoga®, spoke of this many times. In his booklet titled Meditation, he says, “We all have a tendency to divide people into thousands of names: I am this, I am that. Oh, he is different from me, she is different from me. We group people by their color, by their country, by their race and by their religion; and we kill each other.”

Recently I sat down with my journal and actually listed every label I could think of for myself. I’m a woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, niece, aunt, and now that one of my sisters is a grandmother, I’m a great-aunt. I’m a yogini, a friend, an employee and a co-worker, an Italian-American, a Caucasian, a somewhat lapsed Catholic. I’m a New Orleans native and a lifelong, die-hard Saints fan, an AARP member (yikes), a brunette, a Beatles fan (forever), a reader, a writer, a teacher, a student, a dog lover and a confirmed shoe addict.

Do any of these labels tell you who I am? Maybe a little. From this list you could make a few assumptions about me based on your own experiences with other people having the same labels. But they would be assumptions, because you have to run this analysis through your personal mental filter. And when it comes to mental filters, we have a problem: our filters get clogged with stuff that doesn’t belong there, which makes it hard for us to see things clearly.

Growing up in the south in the 1960s and 1970s, I absorbed many attitudes and ideas about people who were not “like me.” Somehow, we overlooked the part in Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan where He tells his disciples that everyone is our neighbor.

Over these many years, my world has grown and my mind and heart opened to the reality that everyone is “like me.” We are the same. Our outer packaging may be different, but that’s just an accident of birth. Each of us is, as C. S. Lewis puts it, a soul that has a body, not the other way around – and our souls all come from the same place. My life is happier when I look at the souls of others, not their outward appearances. People are easier to love that way.

And isn’t that the whole point?