I’ve read a couple articles lately that have gotten me thinking. One was written by a mother of adopted children who weren’t the same race as her, asking people to stop being color blind. (How to Mess up Your Kid’s Understanding of Race.) She was asking people to see color and accept it rather than teaching our children to be color-blind. She wanted us to show them that there are differences in the world but that different is good. The other article I read was about how we are losing our sense of tribe. (How Our Housing Choices Make Adult Friendships More Difficult.) People are so wrapped up in having their own homes/property and their own things, that they stop mingling with the people around them and become more isolated.
I think both these articles hit on something related to the recent shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the 11 police officers at the Dallas protest.
We are disconnected. I know this is something we have all heard over and over – especially in the age of smart phones and other electronic devices. But this disconnection does more than damage the relationships we already have. It keeps us from having relationships with people who aren’t like us too. It keeps us from having any empathy for those people. When you have no relationship to someone, you can’t empathize with them and you are probably less likely to defend them or want to help them.
This doesn’t mean we don’t feel bad for the terrible things that have happened. But we are less likely to feel compelled to do anything about it (aside from saying we feel bad maybe). I’m hugely guilty of this myself. I am one of those people sitting there thinking how horrible these acts of violence are, but at a loss for what I can do. And even after reading how I could help – through due diligence with my local government – my initial reaction is that it’s not going to do any good and it’s not enough.
And then I started making some connections which is where my very loose analogy comes in. I work remotely from my home in Arizona for a company based out of California. I am rarely in the office because of this. When I started working for my last company, I really noticed how my remoteness made a crucial difference in my relationships with the people in the office.
My first couple months on the job, I would send emails to people or even call them and leave voice mails requesting information, giving them deadlines, asking for help, etc. The resulting response was often non-existent. These people were not used to working with a remote employee for one, but because they didn’t know me and didn’t have any relationship to me yet, they found it easy to put me to the side and ignore me.
As I began coming into the office, I would make a point of meeting with these people even if we really had nothing to discuss. Just to talk with them and build a rapport. And it made a difference. People started responding to me and providing me what I needed – and more quickly. Because there was a face to the name. Because there was something at stake if they didn’t respond. A relationship.
My point is this. If we start to build relationships with people of all races, sexual orientation, beliefs – whatever – we may have more empathy for people who are different from us and experience less hate (or even discomfort) because of those differences. So, for those of us who feel lost and like we can’t do anything, the least we could do would be to reach out to other people who aren’t like us and start working on our tribe. Because let’s be honest. Right now our tribe sucks.