Spend Time with People You Don’t Understand

imageSantorini, Greece, in 2010 ~ the day after celebrating at the Saint Matrona’s Day festival in the local village of Finikia

In cataloging adventurecraft life, I had no expectation of relaying my evaluation of how life should be lived. Of giving directives. Of being preachy.

Turns out, though, similar messages collide simultaneously from different corners in my life and provide solid wisdom, direction or common sense, and I have to think there’s some validity to that. And since writing is the palette on which I digest this information (hey, gotta love a mixed metaphor…), this venue is left to catch my rambling thoughts today like a velcro dartboard.

There are a few really smart people that I like to follow, read and learn from. I always say that, if I were infinitely wealthy, I’d be constantly pursuing a different degree. Which is heinous, since the world has a whole lot of classroom to offer with no admission fee. (And I am just juvenile enough to giggle when using the word heinous.)

Over the past week, both Malcom Gladwell (What the Dog Saw) and Bob Goff (Love Is…) whispered the same thing in my ear….we need to, and desire to, see the world from a perspective other than our own.

Nothing frustrates me more than someone who reads something of mine or anyone else’s and says, angrily, ‘I don’t buy it.’ Why are they angry? Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head—even if in the end you conclude that someone else’s head is not a place you’d really like to be. – Malcolm Gladwell, What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures

What if we were just with people? And we don’t have to be with them with agenda. Start being with the people that you don’t understand. That are in circumstances that you don’t understand. And not to teach them. Go as a student. – Bob Goff

I’ve always enjoyed being exposed to the mindset and thought processes of other people. This curiosity was the reason I traveled and studied internationally. It was also the reason I used the Socratic method as a middle school teacher. In high school, I wrote a paper about May Sarton and solitude. I had never heard of her and I had to drive to the UW-Madison campus to study her writings.

In college, I marched with the African American student group on MLK Day. I traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, to meet Dr. John Perkins and learn about reconciliation in communities with an infrastructure burdened by racial tension. I walked around Europe for a few months. To this day, I try to learn how to say hello, thank you and goodbye in everyone’s language. One summer, I went to work on a ranch in Colorado.

And then a friend asked me what the stigmata was, so I went to grad school to study the Bible and get answers to questions like that. In undergrad and grad school, I had access to brilliant minds such as Dr. Jim Bohn, Dr. Phillip Naylor and Dr. Julius Wong Loi Sing, who had insatiable appetites for knowledge and never accepted anything at face value. They all taught me about the word “epistemology,” which was about as exciting as finding a million dollars.

After grad school, I ran for local office with limited knowledge of TIF districts and referedums. Late one night, while campaigning, I sat in the kitchen of a Hmong family for about four hours and listened to a former military leader (via an interpreter) explain the history of the Hmong people and their role in the Vietnam War. I lost the election, but after a few experiences like that, who cares?

Contrary to what one would assume, I didn’t enter into these experiences with an agenda. I was too naive. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know, and I probably couldn’t capture why I pursued those opportunities. I was just curious.

So when really smart guys like Malcolm Gladwell and Bob Goff recommend injecting yourself into the unknown, I tend to listen. They are humble guys, passionate about their beliefs without insisting that their philosophy and approaches to life are the only way to go.

Though I am not a big goal-setter, 2015 is going to be the year for investing in the unknown. I don’t want to go into my 40s in a few years with the same worldview or arsenal of experiences that I have now.

How about you? When have you intentionally put yourself in unfamiliar circumstances or spent time with someone quite different from yourself?

Bartering with Burden

This post transpired after a conversation with my friend Jess a few weeks ago, wherein we agreed to swap one of her FABULOUS Slice pies for some of the meat from the deer my husband and I harvested during hunting season.

We went on to lament that bartering isn’t a more viable option in our economy and communities. However, I am encouraged by the fact that there is a reality show about dickering. In addition, in the small, up north town where my husband and I own 40 acres, the exchange of goods and services is common. People are so relationship-focused that it just makes sense.

With that bartering conversation brewing in the back of my mind as a blog post, it occurred to me that there is one institution in which bartering is the ONLY currency – relationships. Now, before you chalk this up to a cheesy Hallmark post, hear me out.

You can’t offer someone $20 to spend time with you. (Okay, I hear those snickers. Get your mind out of the gutter, as my father would say. Pay attention.) The only offerings we have for one another are time and love…showing up, listening, laughing, engaging. We exchange pictures, recipes, child care, hospitality, jokes, and the list continues. Sometimes the exchange is seemingly unequal, but it all shakes out in the end like a 30-year home loan.

Last week it became very evident that there are several denominations of currency in the relational economy – to include pain, stress, confusion, depression… and that list continues as well.

Upon completing our family photo session on Monday, thanks to a gift from our very talented photographer friend Heidi, I looked at my cell phone. I typically receive one or two texts an evening and maybe 10 emails, most of them from commercial entities. But that night I had several texts. From different people. All struggling.

We had been celebrating our son’s second birthday and smiling into the camera; meanwhile, across the nation, my friends were in pain. Deep depression. Financial pressure. A dying parent. Marital tension. Job frustrations.

My husband warned me not to internalize all of this pain. Ha. Funny. I thought. But I don’t see ‘internalize’ as a four-letter word. My friends’ pain went right to my guts, where it fueled the fire for sending back love, prayers and healing thoughts to them.

Being on the receiving end of burdens is not as horrific as the sharer of those woes might think. They apologize profusely. I  am so sorry. I know you have your own troubles. I know you are busy. I just don’t know who else to talk to. No one gets it. (If you ever call me, don’t waste time saying any of those things.)

Then, the real kicker. Thank you for not judging me. What? Are you kidding me? Do you really have friends that, if you called them about your medical debt or dying relative, would say, “Well, you really brought that on yourself. I have a book you should read; then you can avoid pain altogether and wouldn’t have to bother me with it.” Sheesh. With friends like that, you don’t need enemies. (Credit: My Mom)

And so we barter with burden. And we are better people because of it, alleviating each other’s pain and realizing that we are not alone in our own. We ask people to help us hold on to life when we cannot, so we carry the load together, knowing full well that favor will get returned again…and again.