Our ability to relate with others is largely tied to our exposure. Because of systems put into place across time immemorial, most of us live sequestered from the wisdom and pure delight of those we’ve been told are not “like” us.
Though we can’t always identify its source, homogeny is bred into our daily realities. It’s hard to locate the problem in our categorized, cut-and-dried worlds. We stay quiet about our cravings, crawling into the void of the internet and Netflix, desperate to feel something and secretly wanting to be rattled.
We think we’re the only ones.
All the while, the electric shock of humanity—that chaotic pop and jolt of different life experiences and new opportunities—is strung overhead, pole-to-pole. There’s so much to gain from one another if we determine to lean in. It’s time to trade the safe uniformity of AstroTurf for a pasture of wildflowers, thick with complications and sheer captivation.
Picture me giving you a gentle shove off the putting green and into the unpredictability of the life you’re ready to see.
Acknowledge Our Blind Spots
First on the agenda is to take an honest look at our lives and acknowledge who’s missing. This is humbling. The defensiveness rising up like emotional indigestion might compel us to fudge the numbers. Push through!
Here are a few questions to simplify the process:
- Do you live in a place segregated by race? (Simply put: Do most of your neighbors look like you?)
- Do most of the people in your inner circle express faith as you do? Vote as you do?
- Have you ever invited someone of a different race or ethnicity into your home? Or been a guest in theirs?
- Do you nurture honest relationships with those who qualify for government assistance? Those who fight addiction? People in the LGBTQ+ community? The disabled community? The chronically cranky person at the office? The sullen kid around the corner?
Once we notice who is not in our lives, we can begin to imagine what we, by default, are missing.
Just as dinnertime is made brighter and more interesting by plenty of salt and seasoning, regular life becomes richer and more complex when we regularly rub shoulders with those who have new things to teach us.
Engage in Honest Self-Reflection
The next step is not to go shopping for friends to fill your missing categories. What we can do is awaken ourselves to new opportunities for connection and be ready to build authentic relationships over time.
If we want these fledging friendships to get off the ground, we need to get gut-level honest about our potential to cause damage even when our intentions feel flawless. After spending most of our lives surrounded by similarity, there’s a lot we don’t know about each other and plenty of wrong assumptions.
We are good people who want to be a part of making the world brighter for everyone. These facts don’t exempt us from making a mess of things. The ground zero of humility, where we examine our faulty humanity and our decades of disregard, is the right posture for the road ahead. Let’s don our reflective vests and proceed with caution.
Begin Our Reeducation
Moving through life with a new vision for connecting with people who aren’t “like” us will yield fruit. When we exist in a default mode of searching for similarity, we are sure to find it. The same is true for the moment we expand our vision to seek what we’ve missed along the way. As new people emerge from the landscape, we’ll ask ourselves how we didn’t notice them before now.
No need to get hung up on this. The good news is, here they are! Here are the delightful humans we didn’t know we were missing. They’re here and we’re here and it’s all so exciting.
Now it’s time to buckle down and do the work required.
Studying up on the cultures and complexities of those with different experiences means we’re serious about drawing a wider circle of care. There’s a lot we don’t know or weren’t taught, but we are adults with Wi-Fi access and library cards.
When I discovered our city is home to a large population of Spanish-speaking families, I got a bit overeager and signed up to take a Spanish class through the local parks department with high hopes of dusting the cobwebs off my geriatric high school Spanish.
I regret to inform you that to this day I remain dependent on a few clunky phrases and a handful of mostly unhelpful nouns. I can ask your name and offer you an apple, but beyond that it’s a struggle.
While that tactic didn’t provide the ease of connection for which I initially hoped, I remain persistently curious about Latine culture, and I’m not just talking about considering the virtues of carne asada versus al pastor. It is of no great consequence to my neighbors that I happen to adore tacos.
What unites us is the mutual resolve to hold one another in kind regard, learn the histories parceled out as trust grows, imagine the complexities, anticipate the hurdles, and notice the joys each of us carries.
Check Our Motives
As we trade our mirrors for windows, our sole objective should be a stronger, tighter community. That doesn’t mean our junk won’t still manage to creep in. Let’s ask ourselves, over and over again,
Am I seeking connection and friendship with this person because I think I will somehow make their life better? Or do I truly believe they will brighten mine?
Does judgment or control line the walls of my intentions?
Am I secretly hoping to put them on a better path (read: my path)? Am I trying to worm my way in to attempt to manage them in some way?
Am I willing to accept that my ways are not necessarily “best” and that I have a lot to learn from those with
Am I able to remain open?