Tiny Bubbles

A few years ago, I passed a young woman and her dog on the sidewalk and the dog jumped up on me to say hello.  The young woman apologized, saying she had just begun to foster the dog for a rescue group and hadn’t had a chance to teach it any manners yet.  I told her it was fine, that I was a “dog person” myself and didn’t mind an enthusiastic greeting from a friendly dog.  She laughed and answered, “All my friends are dog people.  I wouldn’t be friends with anyone who wasn’t.”  I smiled politely and went on my way, but her words stuck with me.

IMG_1432I love dogs and spend a lot of time in their company, one way or another.  I share my home with a dog and I walk shelter dogs in my spare time.  Many of my good friends are dog lovers, and several of them also volunteer at the local animal shelter.  But I have other friends who aren’t especially fond of dogs.  I may believe that a house isn’t truly a home until there’s a dog (or two) wandering around, but I have good friends who wouldn’t dream of sharing their home with a dog.  And you know what?  I am just as close to them as I am to my dog friends.

I believe it has become far too easy these days to associate only with people who we believe are, if not exactly like us, then at least close enough to be comfortable.  We can watch news channels that will always reflect our political views, interact on social media only with those who share our opinions, and live in neighborhoods where most people not only look like us, but are probably also in the same income-bracket.  I can’t speak for other religions, but some Christian churches have even begun to align themselves with either conservative or liberal stances based on the sincere belief that not only was Jesus political, but that his politics were exactly the same as theirs.  The division of “us” and “them” seems to be growing wider by the day.

Personally, I don’t think all this “sticking with our own kind” is a good thing at all.  When we surround ourselves with people who think, look or act mostly the way we do, we are rarely challenged with the idea that perhaps our way isn’t always the right way.  When we know that the responses to our opinions will usually be agreement, it’s all too easy to believe that our opinions are actually facts.  And if we do this long enough, then it’s easy to forget altogether that there are good people out there who just happen to look at things a tad differently than we do.

It’s easy to live in our own little bubbles, secure in the knowledge that we are right and morally superior to those whose views don’t match ours, and there are times when I’m really tempted to do that.  But ultimately, it’s not the way I want to live.

I want to live in the real world, which is populated by people who see things in their own unique way.  I want to be in relationship with people who don’t always share my political and religious views because they challenge me to examine just exactly why I believe what I do.  I want to have friends who don’t share all my interests, but are willing to tell me about theirs.  Mostly, I want to continue to learn and grow as a person.  And I don’t think that can happen when I can’t find the courage to burst out of my own little bubble.

Get Closer

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was heading to lunch with a work friend when I tripped at the top of a set of very tall and very steep concrete steps.  I tried to grab the railing to catch myself, but it was too far away.  Luckily, my friend was strong and had good reflexes, because he shot out his arm to block my fall, and then steadied me with his other hand.  If it hadn’t been for him, I would have fallen all the way down those stairs and ended up in a broken heap on the asphalt parking lot many feet below.  I was still shaken when we reached the restaurant, and apparently, so was my friend, because the first thing he did was order a stiff drink.  I noticed his hand was trembling slightly when he lifted the glass.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he saved my baby’s life.

Aside from our work life, my friend and I had very little in common.  He was single and still living with his parents while I was married and living in my own house.  He had never left the St. Louis area, whereas I had only recently returned to it.  He was gay; I was straight.  I was an avid animal lover, yet when I asked him to sign my anti-vivisection petition, he politely declined, saying he saw nothing wrong with experimenting on animals if it had the potential to help humans.  I could go on, but you get the idea. We were two very different people, and yet we worked together quite well and found it easy to be friends.

And this story is just one example of the many times my life has been enriched by people who are very different from me.  I am white, but the woman whose encouragement gave me the most confidence to write for children is black.  I think deer are among the most beautiful creatures on this earth, but I have friends and relatives who hunt.  I love to read, am terrible at sports and have unbelievably bad math skills, yet the man I married rarely reads, went to college on a sports scholarship and makes his living as an accountant.  And I couldn’t imagine life without him.

I know the current trend is increasingly to “stick with our own kind,” and have nothing to do with those who have different values, different cultures and different beliefs, but I honestly think it is a horrible one.  Sure, we can watch only news shows that reflect our opinions, and we can rage against those who think (and, worst of all vote) differently than we do, and we can “unfriend” all the people on Facebook whose posts we disagree with.  But if we do, the loss is our own.

So many people are worth knowing, if we are brave enough to give them a chance.  When we get close to people who seem different, we often find they have some wonderful qualities mixed in there with the stuff that puts us off.   l don’t know about you, but I have good friends  who voted for Clinton, and I have good friends who voted for Trump.  I didn’t vote for either of those candidates, but you know what?  I still value my friends who did more than words can say.

And whenever I do feel the temptation to “stick with my own kind,” all I have to do is remember my friend and coworker from all those years ago.  Because if I hadn’t gotten to know him, he wouldn’t have been with me on those steps.  And I might not have a daughter at all.martha-at-xmas

Sometimes It’s Okay To Be Different

I was wasting time on Facebook the other day, aimlessly scrolling down my newsfeed, when I saw a post about working mothers.  The point was basically that working mothers need help and understanding, rather than judgement, from the stay-at-home moms, and was followed by the usual long stream of comments.  I should have known better than to read them, but when I’m trying to avoid my “to do” list, I never ignore a perfectly good distraction.  So I found myself reading the predictable comments where working moms accused the stay-at-home moms of being cliquish, over-priviledged and unambitious, while the stay-at-home moms accused the working moms of putting their career before the well-being of their children, not being involved in their children’s schools  and being condescending to those who stayed at home.

Sadly, none of this was new.  The same arguments and accusations were being tossed around when my own children were small, which was a long time ago.  I found it depressing that so many young women still hadn’t learned to simply respect that mothers tend to chose what is best (or necessary) for them and their families when they make their career and child-rearing decisions, and that it’s not helpful to trash talk those who make different choices.  Depressing, but not surprising.

I don’t think it’s realistic to expect mothers of young children to be respectful and considerate of those who make different choices and have different beliefs when so few other people show respect and consideration for those who are different.  We live in a society where attacking beliefs that are different from ours has become the norm.  If someone’s political or religious views are different from ours, they are fair game for any ridicule or criticism we can heap upon them….or so it would seem from watching cable news shows, reading the letters to the editor in the newspaper, or reading the comment sections on Facebook or internet news posts.  The message seems clear:  only those who think, look and act just like us are acceptable.

Personally, I find that message unacceptable.  Of course I like my own opinions best; who doesn’t?  But I’ve lived long enough to realize that I don’t want to limit my relationships to people who always agree with me.  I have friends and family from almost every religious point of view, and definitely from every political point of view, and I value all of them.  My only requirement is that they don’t attack my views, and that I don’t attack theirs.  We may discuss our different beliefs respectfully, or we may just tactically “agree to disagree,” depending on the issue and our personalities, but we can, and do, stay in relationship with each other.  At our best, we even learn from each other and grow a little bit wiser and a little more tolerant.  Sometimes, I’ve even managed to admit that I might be (gasp) wrong…just once in a while, of course.

Not all the comments following the post about working mothers were negative.  Several suggested that the best thing to do was simply realize that all the mothers were doing their best to be good moms, and to stop judging each other and start trying to be be nice to each other.  They pointed out that a little understanding and kindness can go a long way.  Call me naive, but I couldn’t agree more.