Wednesday, November 19, 2008

When a stereotype is not enough....

"I do not like that man. I must get to know him better." Abraham Lincoln

I'm a Christian. Regrettably, I've sometimes allowed that to color my viewpoints of other religions, other people, other worldviews. I found Lincoln's insight on a box of tea a couple of months back. I've been thinking about getting past my stereotypes and first (flawed?) impressions ever since.

I attended a professional development seminar at work yesterday, discussing "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz with about twenty other random colleagues. I expected it to be a book about achieving better communication skills with my students. It was that, but it also turned out to contain a significant amount of "new age" and "relativist" type ideas that I don't really agree with. With a strongly Christian background, I've actually never sat down with a book on either of those topics, considering them more or less devilish. I decided that rather than cancel out of the reading and discussion, I'd try and get to know the ideas a bit better.

I don't like most of the worldviews that Ruiz put forth in the book. But because I read the book, and then sat down to discuss it with others, I discovered a few things -

1) For all of the differences I saw, there were a striking number of similarities between Ruiz's beliefs and my own. I am sure that we could talk for hours.
2) On the other hand, allowing myself to be confronted with such a different belief set helped me sort through what I believe surprisingly clearly.
2) Our discussion at work wasn't at all "weird" or "anti-God" - in fact, others tied in what they had read to verses from the Bible, sermons on Sunday.
3) Talking about the text gave me a chance to get to know many other people from work, who were drawn to open up about their life views, values, experiences. I am certain that a fairly different group would have shown up at a "Bible study".

The thought that I took away from the book and the day? It was the third agreement: Don't make assumptions. Have the courage to ask questions.

Don't like someone, don't like what they believe, don't like what they said? I'm going to continue to work at following Lincoln's example and do the really difficult thing - get to know them better.

4 comments:

Don said...

Well reasoned and well presented. Insightful. Go Lincoln. Go Jo.

The author of a book I read some years back, a special educator in England, had a habit of describing how she listened to others. She wrote, "I regarded them." How Lincolnesque.

Dina said...

You're good!! Your posts are so genuine and honest and make your reader want to know YOU more. Guess I'll have to keep peeking in to see what "new" truths I discover through your eyes and from you heart!

Sacha van Straten said...

Hi Joanna,

I like the way in which you are brave and wise enough to elucidate your fears, turning them into strengths.

I work as a teacher in England and for four years worked in a London state school where most of the students were from the Asian sub-continent.

Coming into daily contact with Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and all manner of CHristian variants, plus the cultural differences between, say, Keralan and Sri Lankan Tamils, was an incredibly liberating experience.

Travel goes way beyond broadening the mind, and it doesn't need a journey of a thousand miles for it to be profound or life changing.

There are wonderful journeys of discovery to be made right on our doorstep. Too often, our minds become accustomed to the routine we sub-consciously impose upon ourselves, rendering our eyes useless.

It sounds like you've begun to open yours and see the world around you with a fresh perspective.

As Frank Zappa once said, 'A mind is like a parachute. In order to work it needs to be open.'

I've been writing to your dad, who was kind enough to say kind words about my poetry and blog about media education (my line of work). You're a fascinating family.

Don't stop writing!

With kind regards,

Sacha

joanna said...

As I (finally) get to your comments, I would love to be separated by less than 1000-4000 miles and sit down to talk with each of you!

Sacha, thanks for visiting and sharing your insights and experiences. For someone who has traveled and worked in diverse environments, I find it is interesting that you say it doesn't really take long travels to broaden/change our perspectives. As I have blogged, I'm finding that to be true in my own city, and notice the same thing when we drive a few hours south in the US to the "south", as we did this past summer. A few hours distance gave us weeks of fuel for discussion about the things and people we discovered. Interesting...