I have lived in America for just over two years now, and every day I continue to be amazed by this country's exceptionalism. Today, as we approach the holidays, I'm overwhelmed by the letters I've received from Phil Robertson supporters across the country. People whose opinions differ greatly from mine, but whose values lie — somewhat surprisingly — very close to my own.
While I did receive many hurtful messages, given the holiday season, I will focus on the positive. Several people have also taken the time to write honestly, to disagree respectfully, and, despite our differing opinions, to wish me and my loved ones very happy holidays.
And that's when I realized why I love America.
It's because I now live in a country that advances itself by embracing its many customs, norms, beliefs, and practices. It's a country that has learned that it's OK to have differing opinions, to create dialogue, to have national conversations, and then — more often than not — to reach hands toward the center to bridge the gap. To find commonality in our common humanity. It's a remarkable thing to experience, and I'm blessed to be here to witness it.
And as the letters continue to pour in, and strangers in states I've never been to invite me to spend the holidays with them, meet their families, and visit their places of worship, I'm reminded of the bigger picture. That at the end of the day, LGBT, ally, or stranger, we are all brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters, neighbors, and coworkers, and we all want to sit together in peace and harmony this holiday season.
So I say sincerely and respectfully to Phil, his family, and all who stand with him: I look forward to meeting each and every one of you; to sharing a meal, a beer — perhaps a prayer, if I may — and to discussing the hurtful and negative stereotypes that divide us and the Stars and the Stripes that bind us. Words and images matter. They are powerful devices that can be used to make us laugh or to make us cry; they can entice just as easily as they can incite.
And so when blessed with a voice and a microphone, it's incumbent upon us all to ensure that it can't and won't be used to harm. Surely all people are entitled to voice their beliefs, the same way others are entitled to disagree, and yet others are entitled to hold both opinions to account.
Silence is never the answer. Dialogue always is. So long as we continue to look to each other and converse with respect and understanding, embracing that common humanity that binds us and accepting that we are all neighbors under the same roof, in the house the Lord built, we will continue to advance the American experience and take giant leaps forward together, maintaining our exceptionalism.
From my family, to yours, and to all who have taken the time to write and to call, I wish you all a very happy holidays and happy — and exceptional — new year.
OMAR SHARIF JR. is an actor and LGBT activist, who recently came out in response to political and social changes in Egypt. He is the first and only well known Arabic figure to come out openly.