A Common Ground of Safety and Respect

Ink on recycled watercolor – words: Harper Lee

People are people, folks are folks. We all want a better life for our children, would do anything for our family, want world peace and enough food and safety to get a good night’s sleep. Simple needs, yet universal amongst all the residents of the world. So why is it so hard for us to get along, to respect and trust each other AND to cooperate in solving our common challenges?

We were traveling is an ‘small’ town in Japan, Aizuwakamatsu. It is about four hours north west of Tokyo. The only westerners there are the English school teachers, so we were quite noticeable anywhere we went. As we rode the bus school children waved and shouted hello, then giggled uncontrollably. When I shouted ‘Hello’ back they were startled and amazed that I truly understood their English, which resulted in more giggles. For the first time in my life I understood what it felt like to be different and to stand out simply because of the color of my skin. As I waved and they waved back I could hear their parents talk to them about pointing and making a spectacle of my appearance. It is what any parent would have done and how any kid would have reacted when seeing someone so different from themselves.

As I rode that bus I thought about how much those children were like I was as a little kid and how their parents did the same thing my parents would have done, even though our worlds are half the globe apart. We might look very different and yet we are actually very much alike. Folks are folks, and the barriers between us are not insurmountable they are simply challenges for us to overcome. Education, accessibility and kindness will go a long way towards filling in the gaps between us if we are willing to try on a consistent basis.

Next time you encounter someone who is gruff, or rude, or rubbing you the wrong way remember they want basically the same things you want. They are doing their best to live a life and fulfill their needs and the needs of their family. Give them the benefit of the doubt and let kindness be your guide. Only then will our empathy grow, our problems seem less insurmountable and we reach a common ground of safety and respect.

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