Do you know “the other”?

By Caitlin Kelly

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The level of poverty in the U.S. is deeply shocking — given the astonishing wealth here

It’s been a week of horror, shock, dismay.

It’s been a week of disbelief that American police officers are gunned down in cold blood in Dallas during a peaceful march — and disbelief that even more black men have been shot and killed by police as well.

In Dallas, local residents are approaching police officers, many likely for the first time, to hug them and pray with them and thank them for getting up every day, ideally, to serve and protect them.

In normal life, barring bad luck or criminal behavior, very few of us ever talk to a police officer.

Few of us are likely  to know one socially unless police work, as it is often is, is part of your own family.

As a career journalist, for whom aggressively challenging hierarchy and questioning authority is key to doing my job well, interactions with police have been been few and far between — I didn’t cover “cops” as part of my job and, more generally, the way police are trained to think and behave is very different from that of journalists.

 

So how, then, do we ever meet, sit down with and get to know “the other”?

 

That “other” — i.e. someone whose race, religion, politics, ethnicity or socioeconomic class is wildly different from our own — is someone we really need to know and care about, more than ever.

The divisions, literally, are killing us.

How, then, and where, do we meet one another?

In a world now devoted to narrowed and narrower niches of communication — Snapchat, Tumblr, Reddit, blogs, media slanted in one direction or another — how do we find and listen thoughtfully to other points of view than our own?

How do we sit down face to face and have a civil conversation?

 

It doesn’t have to be about anything serious. It might be about baseball or music or what books you’ve been reading or your theory about Dany and her dragons on Game of Thrones.

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A tram ticket in Dublin. Travel, to anywhere new to you — if you’re curious and open-hearted — can broaden your vision and understanding.

For me, there are only two places like this right now, and I wish I had more.

One is the church I attend, although less and less of late. It is in a small, wealthy, white and conservative town near me. Of those labels, I’m white.

It’s a polite crowd, but deeply corporate and high-earning, with no one who really understands why I and my husband would choose such a poorly paid industry as journalism. What we have done for decades, and done very well, seems like an amusing hobby to them.

I’ve stayed partly because of those differences, although they are starting to wear me down.

The challenge of engaging with “the other” — beyond stilted chit-chat — is initial discomfort. They might have grown up somewhere far away you’ve never seen or attended a college you’ve never heard of. Maybe they didn’t go to college.

They might out-earn you by a factor of 10, or vice versa. Your collar might be white, blue or none, because you work, as we do freelance, at home in a T-shirt.

The discomfort of “the other” — and theirs with you! — is the point of friction we have to move beyond to create and enjoy dialogue, understanding and friendship.

Just because it’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not well worth the effort.

The other place I frequently meet a wide range of people and experiences is with a group of men and women, ages 20s to 70s, who play softball on Saturday mornings. We’ve been doing that since 2001, an unimaginably long time to do anything in a world that changes daily.

Here’s my New York Times essay about them.

In a time of economic and political disruption, even chaos, it’s a haven of comfort and familiarity — even as it brings together a disparate group: a retired ironworker, several physicians, several lawyers, several editors, a gallerist.

After each game, about a dozen of us sit under a tree at a local cafe for a long lunch, whose conversations can turn surprisingly personal and intimate.

It’s not some Kumbaya moment and the group could be even more diverse — people find us through our friendships, generally.

 

If you never meet or talk to people who are very different from you, how can you credibly listen to their experiences and concerns, giving them the same validity you do your own group(s)?

 

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Try climbing those steps in the dark, wearing a headlamp! My week in rural Nicaragua, working with WaterAid, was an extraordinary education. Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere

I grew up in Toronto, one of the world’s most multi-cultural cities, in a country whose population of immigrants remains higher than that of the U.S. — 20.6 percent.

In the  U.S., with 10 times the population of Canada — it’s 13.3 percent.

Statistically, there, your odds of encountering someone very unlike you — in your classroom at school or college, on your hockey team, in your apartment building, on the subway or bus — are high in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver. Calgary now has a Muslim mayor (as does London.)

So it’s normal to know, like and respect people who worship on different days, wear different clothing, eat different foods. They’re just…different…not, per se, a threat.

When Jose and I think about moving elsewhere for retirement, our first question is not just “can we afford it?” or “what’s the weather like there”?

It’s — how comfortable will he feel as a man with brown skin?

Donald Trump’s dog whistles of hatred and racism are deeply shocking to many people, in the U.S. and beyond.

My husband is of Mexican heritage, and well established in his field so the taunts can’t hurt him professionally.

But they are a disgusting way to dismiss a nation of people whose hard work has helped the U.S. for decades, if not centuries.

In  a time of relentless, growing fear and xenophobia, I hope you’ll keep talking to, listening to and staying close to “the other”, however that plays out in your life.

Without that, we’re lost.

 

10 thoughts on “Do you know “the other”?

  1. Oh, I so agree with all of this. I have lived it and tried to teach my daughters this. Of the 3, one married an Australian and met while living in London for a summer, one married an African American from the inner city who put himself through college, the first in his family, and one who married a Lebanese Muslim who moved here during the civil war. I always learn so much from all of them. I think fear of the unknown is what keeps people acting out against each other. Knowing others on a human level is the only way to peace.

    1. Thanks!

      You know it. You live it…and clearly modeled it for all of your daughters. It never occurred to me that Jose being Hispanic would ever be an issue for me or my family (nor is it); they see and know him as the lovely and talented person he is.

      I’m lucky to have learned a lot about his world/upbringing through knowing him. We come from very different backgrounds.

  2. Yes, listening to the other and being open and willing to learn is so important. I despair of what’s happening in the world right now. I read, watch and listen to the news daily, and it’s hard to see a light through the constant barrage of bad news. Brexit, Dallas, Syria, refugees, fear, ignorance, racism…

    Since the Brexit result, I’ve been feeling more stressed, and consuming the news several times a day leaves me feeling drained. I don’t want to live in a bubble, but maybe setting limits — like one screen-free, news-free day per week — would help.

    Anyway, I know that wasn’t the point of your post. Sorry for going off-topic! It just got me thinking about how it’s good to consciously put aside our screens and interact with people, face-to-face.

    1. I know. I really do…I was at a BBQ yesterday and had a really long and really interesting conversation with an African American woman of 31, who works at a charter school. I learned a lot from it and was just so glad to have a place to have that convo (our softball team.)

      She said she very rarely watches news now because it is so deeply depressing. I think skipping it for a while is a great idea. It can feel so overwhelming.

  3. I try hard to seek out opportunities to meet people from different backgrounds from me. I go to parades, festivals, museums that celebrate other cultures – and I do it by myself. If I’m with my wife or someone else I know, I’m less likely to branch out and speak to others. But I’ve found that if I’m by myself and I smile at someone, we often end up striking up a conversation. I’ve had some surprisingly deep conversations with people I’ve just met by doing this, and I always grow and learn from the experience.

    1. If you’re not part of a naturally diverse neighborhood or community, it takes real effort, for sure.

      Good for you for the essential curiosity that drives this, and the willingness to be vulnerable and open to what happens next. I suspect 9/10 times it’s likely to be positive, spurring you onto the next one.

  4. Well said. I challenge all your readers to look at their own circle of friends. If each friend is the exact same color, set a goal to make some new friends. Diversify.
    My friends and I were recently commiserating over the fact that we were exposed to very little diversity, growing up. Fortunately, I now live in the most diverse city in the country. My wish is for each child with limited exposure to the wider world, be given more opportunities to interact with children of other cultures.

    1. Exactly. I’m lucky enough to have made half a dozen friends who are African American through my work; some are colleagues and one is a former source who’s become a good friend. My circle includes Muslims, Jews, people who either live in, or have moved to the U.S. or Canada from, a variety of countries and backgrounds.

      The larger challenge isn’t just physical proximity — but true
      friendship. The more income inequality we have the less cross-class contact we’ll have.

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