It’s challenging for some of us to reach across the aisle…and I’m not referring to politics!
Truth is, we are a species that likes to hang around people who resemble us. We like to think we appreciate and encourage diversity, but the fact is that most of us don’t wander too far from our childhood groups, usually a distinct religion, race or class. Despite our avowed love of travel and exploration, our learned nurture is to return to and still enjoy the foods we love best, the rhythms of speech we understand and even the clothing that makes us feel, well, comfortable.
Tonight, I traveled out of my comfort zone. We were invited to a vegan potluck dinner at a health food store a few towns away. Moreover, we were invited by someone who we hardly know who is, I’m pretty sure, living pretty close to the poverty line. Translation: I was invited to step out of my home group, the upper middle class I’ve lived with from nursery school through college and for the last 40 years of my adulthood. Yes, it’s possible to never wander far from one’s tribe in America!
My concern was unnecessary because I had a good time. At the encouragement of one of the hosts, we all introduced ourselves and spoke with and dined with complete strangers. And I relearned what I have known for years – that clinging to my tribe because I fear differences is limiting my enjoyment and knowledge in this life! In fact, hanging out with the same tribe can be resoundingly boring if there’s no spark. And the spark between people transcends our skin-deep differences.
This is not to say that hanging out with our old, similarly bred, childhood friends is bad. On the contrary, I have many folks in my life who I love who are my brothers and sisters from a different mother. And I make no apology that we are honestly, very homogeneous. Those are very easy friendships.
But as I have aged and moved away from my hometown in the suburbs of New York (or other parts of the northeast where people who look like me were raised) I sense something else starting to happen. I am sensing that when I am unapologetically me, a kind fellow who finds mostly everyone I meet interesting, that I can drop the fear of difference and embrace people for who they are regardless of whether they look or act exactly like me.
This is not a small thing and I know many of you reading this are probably seeing much the same thing happening everywhere. The world has shrunk. All around us are people letting down their guard and becoming more fully themselves – especially young people. Sure, there are still bastions of homogeneity that resist change, but change is happening. And it’s happening fast.
I think travel has been the key for me. I needed to immerse myself in towns, cities and states where I could begin to lose my desire to cling to what is safe. I still have a ways to go, but I think it’s one of the main reasons that the road still calls to me.
The Adventure is not done. Stay tuned and, if you will, begin your own!
I think about Paris when I’m high on red wine I wish I could jump on a plane
So many nights I just dream of the ocean, god I wish I was sailin’ again
Oh, yesterday’s over my shoulder, so I can’t look back for too long
There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me and I know that I just can’t go wrong
With these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same
With all of my running and all of my cunning
If I couldn’t laugh I just would go insane
If we couldn’t laugh we just would go insane
If we weren’t all crazy we would go insane
Jimmy Buffet, “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes”