Recently, I attended a First Responders Series event discussing women and immigration. These events are sponsored locally, in Charlotte, as a way of uniting to understand others and break down the silos that can keep us separated. The attendees of this particular event was truly diverse. There were several different ethnic groups, socioeconomic groups, genders, cultures, nationalities, religious affiliations, age groups as well as political persuasions.
To start the discussion, the facilitator asked a question related to concerns created by recent developments with immigration. Several attendees expressed their concerns about being able to visit family members still living in their home countries. Others expressed fear of being deported even though they’ve had citizenship for some time. Some also expressed their hurt and fears about not being accepted. They said they’d felt completely accepted prior to these developments but now question if they are truly accepted by their peers and people they consider friends.
As I looked around the room and listened to the comments being made, I saw the grief, sorrow, fear and dismay expressed. I remember thinking, “How are these people coping with all of their emotions?” When we experience any or all of these emotions, everything around us can be in a state of flux. We desire a feeling of safety and security. If we cannot find safety and security, we then begin to protect ourselves from the potential of any perceived harm that may come our way. As a minority who is native to this country, I must admit, at times, I have felt these same emotions. I was truly disheartened to hear that others have this experience as well.
But then a bright spot happened. A gentleman, whom I’ve never met before began talking to me. He relayed a story of previously living in a siloed bubble for years but in the last year, he’s begun to recognize the uniqueness of accepting those who are not like him. I purposely did not use the word different, because this word has its own connotations that sometimes divide instead of unite.
This made me very curious and so I asked the question, “So what are you going to do with this revelation?” He responded by saying that he now intentionally talks to people that are not like him and attempts to truly engage with that person. I then probed further by asking if this intentional interaction and engagement was for him or the other person. After thinking about it for a moment, he went on to say that it is actually for both. He explained that he seeks to learn and understand others individually and hopes that by making these attempts, the person feels seen and heard.
Now, isn’t that what we all want at some level…to be both seen and heard? To know that at least one person can see us as an actual person instead of some label that society has given us based on our differences? I thanked him for taking this thoughtful and intentional journey and asked if I could share our conversation and he granted his permission.
Of course I shared this story with my friends and received varied responses. These responses ranged from laughter, skepticism, affirmations but the one response everyone had in common was that they were all curious. Curiosity releases us from our silos and challenges us to engage in order to understand. Maybe, just maybe, if we all become curious about anything that is not like us, we will finally appreciate them. I’m not sure but I’m definitely willing to find out.