“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
– Neale Donald Walsh
We are a country which has a great deal of diversity as a nation of immigrants. Those are the facts about the people who live in the USA. I learned to love the diversity of the students I taught from all continents in the world when I was teaching English-as-a-Second Language for 24 years. Also I have lived in different parts of this country. I was born on the west coast, but have lived on the east coast both in New England in North Carolina in the South. When I lived in the west I had more interactions and friends with Latino roots. When I lived in the South I had friends and colleagues who were African American. As the Walsh quote said, I had to become willing to step out of my comfort zone. I am happy I did. My life has been enriched by having African American, Latino, and Asian people in my life. I feel fortunate that I have had all kins of opportunities to get to know all kinds of people with different backgrounds and cultures. I know other people may feel very differently from myself.
I was fortunate that I grew up in a family which did not behave with prejudice towards people of color. I am deeply thankful to my parents for not filling me full of ideas about NOT accepting others who looked differently from myself. During my lifetime when I was was dating Latino, Asian, or African American males, I did not tell this to my parents, but at least my parents’ feelings about race did not get in the way of me being more open to all kinds of people, and I was able to experience diversity through the relationships I have had in my lifetime. That was a gift.
As a Caucasian, and even a woman with red hair, I grew up feeling a little “different”. I was even different from my own family members. Among blond and dark hair children, I was the ONE red head. Many of us grow up in families where we feel different. Through my life, I have had friends who said they, too, felt like they did not “fit” in their own family. I understand their feelings, as well. As it turns out, I am now grateful, that I could question what was happening in my family, too, and kept my mouth shut about what I saw. Once I grabbed some courage and I got over my own shyness growing up, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and then had opportunities to meet and hang out with all kinds of people and had the good fortune to have diverse people in my life.
Where I have a harder time, is being with and hanging out with people who think differently from myself. This is where I am fortunate again because I have some family members who think differently from myself. I come from a family where our political opinions diverse, and we have very different views. I love those family members very much with whom I have different view points. Recently, I spent some time with them and listened to what those family members’ thought about, and why they thought and felt what they did. It is great to listen to them. There was nothing for me to defend about my views. During my lifetime, I also have had an interesting background checking out several political parties. I’ve even volunteered to work with them. From the right to the left I have listened and participated with many of them. It is great to know I don’t have to have all of the “answers” about what the USA should do.
What I have learned is, I know we need to listen better to each other, and there are many disgruntled people in this country: most of us are in that 99% category of Americans, not among the 1% ers. There are some good and kind billionaires, who are trying to make a difference in this world and come from caring places about others unlike themselves. I am not speaking about them. People with money I am not vilifying, either. Those who perpetuate injustice towards people of color, or the people who are opposed to GBLT people, or those who claim to support soldiers, but then don’t do anything, and/or also those who dismiss the planet and what is happening on it, give me the biggest pause and the greatest concern.
This was a show that was on the TED Radio Hour. Elizabeth Lesser, I thought had some good practical parts about diversity. The podcast begins with a plug for NPR. I was unable to cut it out.
Embracing our diversity in all these ways is challenging. It may require you to leave your comfort zone to reach out to meet someone different, even if you are a little afraid. On a personal level, I know doing that, has added great beauty, love, freedom, and wonder to my life.This is freedom has helped me live more openly and less fearful of the so called “other”, and be more compassionate toward myself. However, to become more open, I had to start with myself and embrace my own “imperfections” and character traits, the parts of my own “other” that I have judged harshly and not liked very well in myself.
One more important thing for me about diversity in both our thinking and our cultural exposure, is that when we embrace it in ourselves and then with others, then we can be more open to working together with each other. Then we can share our ideas, listen to each other, and embrace all kinds of possibilities for dealing with the challenges we have to face with each other and for our planet. This planet was not created for merely a few privileged ones, be they dictators or billionaires. It is for all of us. Together we are stronger, more creative, and I believe UNSTOPPABLE to create a world that works for all of us.
One more resource I found years ago was a great documentary about Race that I first saw on PBS. It is called “Race: Power of an Illusion”. This is a three part series. You can watch the first part on Youtube from California Newsreel.