Symbolically, the heart has long been identified as the center of the body. It holds wisdom, reason, emotion. Islam, Judaism and Christianity all share an understanding of the heart being a temple of God. Whatever we believe symbolically about the heart, it holds a commonality for all of us. We all have one and we each share a longing for belonging, a longing to see and to be seen by others, to have purpose and significance and dignity in the eyes of others.
In an increasingly divided world, it is easy to ignore “other” people; people who look, sound and think differently than us. It is easy to stay in our comfortable silos and never make friends with those who don’t look like us. Having conversations and building friendships with those who may be different than us begins with our willingness to show up as our full, whole selves and to welcome the full, whole self of the person sitting across from us.
The first step is seeing, and sometimes we need to adjust our eyes to see. We must seek to really see the humanity, dignity, beauty and image of God in the person across from us. The truth is, in order to see others, it requires us to see ourselves first. We must come to terms with our own biases, the stories we may be telling ourselves about the person, the fears, the anxieties and even the trauma that may hold us back. We have to get really honest with ourselves and our histories that may play into how we see people who are different. Sometimes the first step to seeing is asking ourselves: Who have I been trained not to see?
Beware of the single narrative. Seek to understand more than the single narrative you may be familiar with. Do I think all Muslims are terrorists? Do I believe all Christians are judgmental? Do I look at a certain people group as victims? The list goes on and we are all guilty. Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, beautifully unpacks this concept in her TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” The single story lines we create about others contribute to the wall between “us and them.” The only way we can tear down this ever-mounting wall is by making friends with those who are different than us.
Show up. Sometimes the most radically welcoming thing you can do is show up. It’s simple and often not as simple as it seems. Show up where you may be the minority in spaces that make you feel uncomfortable. (Tip: Bring your kids and they will often make friends faster than you!) Show up at the mosque or temple in your neighborhood; they often have open houses, blood drives and other community events. Instead of taking your kids to Chick-fil-A® for lunch, go to an Ethiopian or Syrian restaurant. Introduce them to new food and new people. Get connected to refugee resettlements or development agencies in your community and show up where you’re needed.
Focus conversations on the things that unite, rather than divide. Motherhood is a common denominator, regardless of how you have been raised and how you are raising your children. The hope to see your children grow up healthy and strong and to have a good life is at the heart of motherhood. I recently got a chance to sit with a group of mothers from Palestine. We didn’t speak a common language, but one of the most powerful questions was a simple one: What are your hopes for the future? I have never seen a group of women light up as they talked about hope. Hope unites. Start conversations around hope.
Listen longer than feels comfortable. Don’t do what I am often prone to do: interject and offer solutions. Rather, remain in a posture of curiosity. Here’s some great advice: Check yourself on whether you are advocating or attempting to influence others. If you find yourself in the latter posture, stop, breathe and open up to what is happening around you. Get curious. Ask questions instead of telling someone what you think.
Be humble and know you won’t always say the right thing. Stepping out of our relational comfort zone is like learning a new language. Those who learn the quickest are often those who are not afraid of saying the wrong thing. Here’s the truth: you’re going to say the wrong thing at some point. You may cause others to snicker, but learn to laugh at yourself in the midst of things.
Be willing to learn and to feel uncomfortable at times. It is discomfort that leads to growth in our hearts, minds and lives. And it is only through discomfort that we can have conversations with those who are vastly different than us. So, may you go to uncomfortable places and find yourself surprised by the comfort you will find in the commonalities you share with those you once called the “other.”
Candice Brumme has a heart that beats for women around the world. With an MFA in integrated design strategy from Parsons School of Design, she is passionate about gathering people and creating safe spaces for driving social change. She is an avid climber and adventurer and loves any moment she gets to climb rocks with her husband, TJ.
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