Have you ever lived or worked in an area where your nationality, religion, gender, or other identifying characteristics placed you in the minority? Maybe you’re a woman working in a male-dominated field or a Christian working in a primarily Buddhist country.
When our children were in elementary school, I found myself and our family in the minority. We are about as caucasian as they come. I am a white, blonde haired, blue-eyed woman that speaks only English, unless you count my few words of high school French. I can probably say, “Hello,” “Goodbye,” and “Where is the library?”.
Our children’s elementary school was filled with diversity. Like most of us, I desperately wanted to fit in and talk with other moms about the issues facing my children: the teachers, bullying, did they think it was ridiculous for a kindergartener to have 26 pages of homework a night, etc.? But I found myself lost in the fringes. One of the main reasons was language. Most of the parents didn’t speak English and I didn’t know one word of Vietnamese, Japanese, or Spanish.
The good thing about being on the fringe of any group or activity is you get the opportunity to observe. When I looked around the playground and the lines of kids and parents waiting for the teachers to arrive, what I saw was love. Parents were looking at their children with the same tenderness, joy, and wonder I felt for my own two beautiful kids. Everywhere I looked there was love.
One day, one of the Asian moms approached me on the school blacktop. Her English was about as good as my high school French, but she walked up with a huge smile and held out a large box of dried shrimp snacks. Not understanding, I tried asking simple questions. Finally, she was able to say “Matthew like” and handed me the box. After several attempts from each of us, I understood she had volunteered for a class field trip the week before and had noticed that my son loved this snack. So, she had sweetly bought a box for him and took the time to find me and deliver her gift. There it was again — love was there.
Our country, like my kid’s elementary school, is filled with a beautiful variety of people. We have people who identify themselves as conservative or liberal, people from all nationalities, people who have lived in the same town their entire lives and know everyone in town by name, and people who have lived all over the world. We are a richly diverse nation, filled with people from all walks of life and a variety of backgrounds.
Sadly, we have started to define each other by our differences and we are hearing more and more about tribalism. Where people are loyal and spend their time only with people who are like them, who agree with them, and share almost all of the same values. And if someone is not in our tribe then we label them not only as different from us, but as bad and possibly a threat to our happiness and well-being.
We must remember that love can cross those narrow and limiting definitions of each other. United and Together is designed to help people with different viewpoints to listen, understand, and connect with each other. If you are on the fringes of a group or see someone who wouldn’t be included in your group, maybe try reaching out in a simple way. Ask about their family, what holidays are special to them and why, where have they lived and what did they love about those places? None of these questions are designed to change your mind or threaten your way of life. You are just getting to know your neighbor; you are refusing to let our country become more divided into “us” and “them”.
My children are in high school now and yet I have never forgotten the kindness of that sweet mother who reached out to me in spite of the language and racial barriers. She didn’t speak my language, she had never met me, and I had nothing to offer her. She just wanted to show love and kindness to my son, who to me was everything. If that simple kindness could touch my heart as deeply as it has, imagine what would happen in our country if each of us could reach out that openly and simply to one another. Love is the most natural and powerful thing in the world.