If you don’t know why #blacklivesmatter, or what to think about immigration, or where to start in understanding all the letters in LGBTQAI, this is the blog for you. In a world so full of differences, it’s hard to know how to bridge the gap between “us” and “those not like us.”
I remember what happened when I got into a tense conversation with a friend of another ethnicity. I shut down. When she asked why, I said, “It feels like I’m gonna step on a land mine.” She said, I need you to be willing to step on land-mines for me, Jacci. We may hurt each other’s feelings, but we need to talk about these difficult things if we’re going to be friends.” Since then I’ve been committed to hard topics, so that I can learn, and grow, and understand the fascinating people in our world.
Interested? Here are three easy ways to get started.
Discussion: The easiest on-ramp to understanding culture, ethnic and sexual differences is to find ways to learn and talk about them. This is a short on-ramp for becoming a more open person and expanding your thoughts about the world. It is easily done through media. If you’re a reader, find a friend, read a book together and discuss it! This can be a book on any subject, like ethnicity. I’d recommend the book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: and other conversations about race.” or “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian history of the American west,” or if those sound too heavy, try “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Read a book and talk to your friend about what you learned, about the culture, and how the differences made you feel. Highlight positive things you didn’t know about that culture.
You can do this with movies too. Watch, “Smoke Signals,” or the documentary, “Trans,” or order the movie, “Through Our Eyes,” about kids who grow up in Christian homes and come out as gay. Then discuss it with a friend or friends.
You can make an outing of it at the theater, or a cultural museum, like a holocaust exhibit. All of these are excellent ways to learn the language around a difficult topic – because each topic has its own set of terms. Discovering how you feel about differences is the first part of building a bridge to someone with that difference.
Displacement: If you’ve ever been out of the country, you’ve experienced displacement. To be where people have a different language, culture and food, puts you in a displaced position. You become, “other,” than the majority. That is a good thing. It helps you to identify with what non-majority people experience daily. But you don’t have to leave the country to do this. Try one of these displacement activities: Attend a church of a different ethnicity, volunteer to work with immigrants or the homeless, or attend a PFLAG meeting (Parents and friends of lesbians and gays). During the displacement phase, it is important to be a good listener. Use phrases like, “tell me more,” and then listen to understand.
When you displace yourself, you find out what you don’t know. I remember sitting in the home of a same sex couple when one woman said that someone had mistakenly referred to her as a lesbian. My husband and I looked at each other in confusion and asked her to explain. She gladly educated us on the fact that many people see themselves as non-binary in their sexual attraction. She described herself as pan-sexual, falling in love with a person, not a gender. I’d never heard those words before.
Develop meaningful Relationships: As you discuss topics that are foreign to you, you become more open to them. As you displace yourself into new cultures, you begin to love and appreciate them, and have empathy for what it feels like to constantly live as “other.” Hopefully, then, you will begin to meet people in these other cultures whom you want to get to know better; to develop friendships with. You invite them to your parties and they invite you to theirs. You begin to do life together and attend each other’s children’s birthdays. Being around my gay friends used to feel like displacement to me, but after awhile, they were no longer my gay-friends, they were just my friends. I trust them with all that is most important to me. Once you get to the place where people don’t feel “other” to you, you have effectively built a bridge across a cultural barrier!
Eager to become a “world citizen?” Follow the three D’s to learn how to enter the world of someone different than you. And be prepared to grow and change.
What ways have you learned to build bridges across differences? Share any things you’ve tried or would like to try in the comments below.