Tag Archives: empathy

Choose Not To Be Color Blind

Henri Martin - Vallee du Vert en Aval

This week I went home to visit family. It is a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains and filled with lots of people who look like me and many who even have the same religious beliefs. In my 12 years of school there, I can probably count on one hand the number of people I knew that were “different” from me.

While there, I got into a conversation with someone that led to them saying they were “color blind”. In a way, the statement didn’t surprise me. I didn’t know this person really, but in my years spent in the valley, people were always polite, gracious and respectful to all. AND — looking back, I’d say pretending to be blind to any differences. We weren’t to point out differences. We didn’t discuss them. We were to act as if we were all equals and the same.

Well, I am all for the equal piece. We are all humans with the same basic needs. We all should have the same rights and opportunities…regardless of the color of our skin, language we speak, clothes we wear, or size of our bank accounts. But, we are not all the same, nor do I believe we should pretend we are. I am not saying we need to treat individuals differently because they aren’t like us – but acknowledge, understand and respect the differences.

In ignoring differences (of any sorts), I feel we are expecting everyone to conform to the same beliefs or ways, risking sending a message that different equates to a bad thing or that discussing differences guarantees confrontation. In the case of the community I grew up in, I don’t believe it was intentional (and sure that is the same for others too). But what do we gain from this?

Today, I am raising my children in an environment unlike the one I grew up in. First, teaching them that different is not bad, and sometimes it can be quite awesome (while fully understanding that being “like” someone else is comforting at times). We don’t need to highlight differences all the time, but we also should never be ashamed of them.

Second, I don’t ever want my children to be “color blind” (or blind to anything). I want them to see people for who they are. See life and perspectives like, and unlike, their own; be it foods, beliefs, ways of life, struggles one faces, or things that make one happy. Get to know others and understand why they say and/or do what they do. Respect other’s choices and make a decision to associate with them because of who they are as individuals.

My why? I hope it opens their eyes and allows for them to better connect with the world outside of their bubble, making them much more empathetic human beings. Just a few weeks ago, my littlest guy told his brother who had just complained about a bathroom that, “at least there was a toilet,” because his friend came from a country where the toilet was just a hole in the ground. I don’t want my kids to settle for a less sanitary bathroom because they know that – but I think it helps put things in perspective.

So, I hope fewer people are color blind (or blind to any differences). I hope that we see the colors. Recognize that each individual has different needs. Celebrate and encourage people to share their unique perspectives, talents and strengths for others to learn from them. Just as the collection of many dots of unique color create beautiful mountain scene in the above painting; it is the collection of many unique individuals that make our communities and organizations resource and knowledge rich.

Above painting by Henri Martin

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Brighten Someone’s Day

Tree

 

This past week I took my kids to a well known fast food chain. Not something I do often, but I was tired and so were the kids…not sure any of us would have held up long enough to sit in a restaurant. From the minute we walked in, we were greeted by a smile and warm welcome by this employee. After placing our order we waited…and waited, for our food. Two mins became almost fifteen. I can tell you, after a long day of being out, there was a reason why I gave in to fast food…it because we would get our food fast. Each passing minute, I feared we were closer to one of my children melting down. They were like little ticking timebombs. Every few mins this sweet girl would check on our food and us. When it was finally ready, she apologized and offered us a free dessert.

Whether she knew it or not, this girl working behind the counter controlled this conversation. Although normally all smiles, today I was tired and done. This lovely girl could have followed my lead, taken our order and simply blamed the delay and my dissatisfaction on someone else. But she didn’t, she set the tone and steered the conversation and experience in a positive direction, starting with her smile, and although I passed on the dessert offer, her genuine concern during our wait was much appreciated. In the end it was not what I got, but the experience I had. She not only prevented me from becoming upset over the longer wait, but she had improved my mood overall. For that I thank her.

When dealing with others, I think we need to remember that it isn’t only what we do for them, but how we do it. We have the power to change someone’s mindset, brighten their day…starting with something as simple as a smile. How we greet others, from our body language to the words that come out of our mouths, can set the tone for the conversation going forward. Empathy and patience, can do as much for the conversation as our actions.

 

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile,

but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh


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