A few weeks ago, one of my dear friends came to D.C. for a visit. Jenn and I traipsed the town, savored some unseasonably lovely weather and marked each day with an ‘event.’ The women’s march, the Hirshhorn museum, miles walked along the Washington Mall… We spent a lot of our time talking about everything from mutual high school memories, marriage quirks, grocery shopping patterns and a shared taste for diet Dr. Pepper. Jenn isn’t a soda fiend, like me, but we bonded over the sharp effervescence of a freshly-cracked can.
The genesis of the trip was a forum with Brene Brown at the Washington National Cathedral (where I will soon be a verified docent!) Both Jenn and I have read Brene Brown’s many bestsellers and were eager to see her speak. Her themes are human connection through vulnerability and ruthless self-awareness. She ‘speaks truth to bull-shit,’ with a louder bullhorn than almost any other woman and I admire her greatly.
One of Brene Brown’s messages was about the dangers of tribalism. We faction ourselves off from each other politically, professionally and personally. We define ourselves by who we are and who we are not, with the TV shows we watch, the Facebook pages we follow and the neighborhoods we live in.
Jenn and I became friends as teenagers, when these markers of identity were exactly what we needed as we broke out of our childhood uniforms and tested our own brands of adulthood. Our group of friends was defined by our love of lamenting alternative music, Doc Martens and midnight coffee in a Lyon’s diner complete with faux rock walls and Trident gum sold from a glass case below the cash register (though even then I preferred diet soda to bitter brew).
In adulthood, our tastes had changed (only one of our group of friends still struts purple hair;) but both Jenn and I recognized how we had closed our worlds to ‘others.’ Brene Brown’s point was that we ALL do that, and the narrative on cable news these days is that we are doing that more than ever. I don’t necessarily agree ( I can’t think of any prolonged period when nations/cultures/religions didn’t largely define themselves by their enemy), but I recognize that on November 9th 2016, I wanted to brand myself with progressive T-shirts, buttons and unity safety pins to make it clear I belonged to the Left-y tribe.
Brene Brown’s message to us, though, was to recognize differences as they are, but intentionally seek the similarities, too. Open our arms, our hearts, our ears to each other, no matter the clan they identify with. We don’t have to agree, but we make matters worse when we don’t even acknowledge the other’s rights to an opinion. Brene brought up Trump- we don’t have to like Jared Kushner, but we can honor his humanity as we would Chelsea Clinton’s.
In that vein, I have spent the past few weeks, intentionally seeking similarities in people. Most of these people I am opening my eyes to are strangers, since I am still cultivating friends here, but last weekend I passed a homeless person and honed in on the Michigan sweatshirt he was wearing–it was just like Shane’s. I smiled and in his eyes I saw kinship. The college sweatshirt was a gateway for me to witness his personhood.
The guy with the man bun who almost ran me over in the crosswalk- he was clearly in a rush. I’ve felt that way too and behaved similarly. I felt empathy for him, instead of my default anger.
Lately, Trump has been made fun of for drinking 12 diet cokes a day. It’s a behavior I share and I felt a twinge of compassion for him. A twinge. It’s a start.