“Talk to someone who doesn’t look like you.”
NHBSR Changemaker award recipient Paul Michael made this simple request at NHBSR’s “Uniting on Purpose” spring conference. His challenge tied together the focus of this year’s event – finding ways to bridge gaps and come together for the good of our communities.
At a time when our state and country are so divided, we need to make extra efforts to communicate with people who look different, think different, dress different and sound different.
Though I moved to New Hampshire over a decade ago, my Louisiana accent remains thick. The minute I speak to a local, my deep-South twang conjures up all sorts of preconceived notions about my beliefs and my intelligence. Being raised to be polite, patient and respectful at all times leads others to believe I’m a pushover – but those who know me, know better.
We also need to take our interactions a step further and actively listen to what others are saying. We need to explore outside our bubble, our community, to hear what it’s like to be someone somewhere else.
For me, I know sometimes I get so busy trying to dispel others’ false opinions that I often miss the opportunity to make a connection. I sometimes enter a social situation with a wall of security protecting me – a social distancing that isn’t the result of a life-threatening pandemic but of a psychological fear of how an interaction may play out.
June 1 marks the beginning of Pride Month – a celebration of LGBTQ+ culture, achievements and activism to increase awareness over ongoing issues of inequality and to commemorate the lives lost to hate crimes and HIV/AIDS – and this seems a fitting time to start – if you haven’t already – your journey to reach out, ask questions and listen to others’ stories. Join me and my NHBSR coworkers – let down those walls and open yourself up to deep, meaningful interactions.
Beliefs and opinions are rooted in the stories that shaped each of us. If you can access those roots, maybe you can replant positive experiences that can shift their perspective … or perhaps yours.
Growth, change and learning happens in a dynamic, interactive, respectful environment. Anger, self-righteousness and insults suffocate any chance of connecting.
Watch this short TEDTalk in which Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member and spokesperson for Westboro Baptist Church, talks about how a polite and respectful interaction with a person on Twitter not only changed her perspective but taught her better ways to communicate with people of differing viewpoints.
As our Executive Director Michelle Veasey shared at the conference, “Until we engage in thoughtful conversation, across walls, town lines and political divides, we cannot begin to understand the layers that speak to our ability to find commonality. I hope each of us can begin the challenging, but critical, journey to exploring our role within our companies and communities to build bridges, wider networks and deeper understanding. I hope that you will start by connecting with people you don’t know … not for small talk, but to build relationships. This is where we begin Uniting on Purpose.”