One of the quotes that struck me most as a child was, "You can't understand someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes." I have specific memories of sitting in my fourth grade classroom thinking on it.
Then recently I read this quote from Justin McRoberts:
I think it's crucial to move past "us vs. them" thinking and to find the humanity in all people.
I've spent a lot of time this past year listening. I've had some of my core worldview, my deeply held beliefs, challenged as I learned to really listen... and believe what others told me. My worldview didn't change overnight, but in time it has as I continue to challenge myself to widen my circle. I haven't arrived, but I continue on this journey of finding and listening to voices different from my own.
Fighting the "us vs. them" mentality and prioritizing knowing people and viewpoints different from our own not only gives us a greater understanding of humanity, but it also gives us more compassion and distills fears. I can't emphasize enough how important I think it is that we invest in this endeavor.
This journey of understanding and widening my circle has included numerous avenues.
I think the easiest and least intimidating avenue is to learn through books. While books are my favorite way to learn, this can include other resources such as documentaries, YouTube videos, and articles. Choose thorough resources, and when something feels foreign or especially challenging, keep pushing yourself to lean in.
For books, I think we can have our worldview challenged through both nonfiction and fiction books. Three of the main topics I have challenged myself in this year are racism, American history from the Indigenous perspective, and immigration. That means I have leaned into reading books by Black people, Indigenous Peoples, and immigrants.
I learned a lot by reading two non-fiction books by Black writers: Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram Kendi and I'm Still Here by Austin Channing Brown.
I also loved learning about immigration through After the Last Border by Jessica Goudeau.
While I have read great non-fiction regarding Indigenous People's history in America, my favorite books that have been most impactful have been fiction: The Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich.
There's a level of emotional connection that I think especially comes through fiction books, and I will always believe in the power of story.
Biographies are also so important! Two I love this year are I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave by Frederick Douglass.
Beyond books, I was especially challenged this year by watching the movie "Just Mercy" (on the true story of a Black man put on death row for a crime he didn't commit), the documentary "13th" (on mass incarceration), "When Will They See Us" (on the true story of 5 boys wrongfully accused of gang-raping a woman), and “The Two Popes” (I’m ashamed how little I still know of Catholicism!)
What an age we live in with the Internet! The world is at our fingertips. One thing I realized a year ago is that everyone I followed on social media was basically just like me. Primarily white, middle class, American, and Christian. A lot of homeschoolers and farmhouse dwellers.
On instagram, I started following Black and Indigenous men and women, and one of the homeschooling mamas that I cherish most is a Black mama who I've learned so much from. I began following a homeschool mom who is a Muslim, and also a fashion designer and activist Muslim woman. I followed accounts on IG and Facebook that share multi-cultural books.
On Facebook, I began following a local Black Lives Matter group as well as several people involved in the protests. Nobody in my circles were at or involved in the protests, so I really could only know and understand one side. Following these people (and meeting a few) helped give me an honest inside view of what was going on from their angle, as well as what their interests and passions are beyond being a protestor, and I was able to see them as a fellow human and not just a statistic or a stereotype.
I also follow blogs and articles that push me to consider viewpoints different from my own.
I think the ultimate challenge to our worldview comes when we befriend people who are different from us. Not just an acquaintance. True friendships. In most ways, I think I'm still in the beginning stages of forming true friendships with people who are different from me. I think this is easier for some people than others. For instance, I live in rural Indiana, so I have to drive to the city to really interact with people different from me.
This summer, I found a local organization called FIRM (Fighting Inequality and Racial Matters), and I was able to join this group for a bike ride and walk that allowed me to meet and hear from people different from myself. This certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone. I joined the group on my own, so I didn't know anyone the first time I went. Getting to know people different from ourselves won't be comfortable. It will challenge us to our core.
Some of the local protestors, in a desire to share with the community that they are much more than just protestors, held a 4th of July fun event for kids at a park, and I was able to take my kids and meet them. I found out the main host of the event was just 18, and she had put in a lot of time to host such a thoughtful event for kids when she wasn't even a parent herself.
More recently, I have begun volunteering with Food Not Bombs and, through this, have not only been able to spend more time with people who live in the city but also with homeless people and other people who are in a different class than myself.
Dear friends, challenge yourselves. Challenge your stereotypes. Challenge your worldview. Widen your circle.
I know most who follow my blog are like me, so let me challenge you:
- If you are white, and most of your friends are white, ask yourself why and consider how you can change that.
-If you are middle class, and most of your friends are middle class, ask yourself why and consider ways you can know the lower class (nearly 1/3 of Americans are in the lower class).
-If you are Christian, and most of your friends are Christian, ask yourself why and consider ways you can get to know people of other religions.
-If you live in rural or suburban areas, and most of your friends also do, ask yourself why and consider ways you can come to know people who live in the city.
I have been changed as I ask myself these questions and pursue knowing people different from myself. A couple of years ago, I had no framework to understand some of the things that people said, did, and believed... just a lot of opinions of why they said, did, and believed those things. From personal experience, I will adamantly state that if you only know people like yourself, then your opinions of those different from you are inadequate and not fully informed. I can't say that I have arrived in understanding people, and I know with certainty that I never will, but it is a path that I will continue to pursue.