On November 15th, twenty-eight women from a variety of races, nations and religions gathered together for a Conversation Safari. The plan was to dive into divisive current events and the fears that drive our emotions, our behaviors and our results.
Our topic had been planned for months based on several private conversations:
- I’d had with a Muslim neighbor
- And several different conversations I’d had with ladies that will always have a better tan than I do
In each of those private conversations we shared fears, we felt each other’s pain, and considered new perspectives.
(The date of our event had been chosen because of some scheduling conflicts, not because of a master strategy. But when November 9th rolled around and the election results from the U.S. hit the airwaves – fear in across the world and in the expat sandbox grew. Our topic could not have been more perfectly timed.)
- One of the women I had met with during the summer shared what was happening at the University that her son attends in the U.S.
- Other neighbors were posting deep concern for their safety in the world
- While other friends in the U.S. were sharing deep concerns about racism and bigotry
The morning of the event, each lady that attended agreed to:
- Share what makes them feel angry and fearful – beyond the election
- Be courageous and open, even if they were uncomfortable
- Bring compassion, curiosity and a spirit of adventure – instead of a desire to win a debate
and listened to others.
After sharing what made each one angry and fearful… I had been given permission to share the following story from one of those private conversations…
A brlliant, compassionate and beautiful African woman is in an environment where she is often treated as less because of the color of her skin. One day a neighbor called her a Negro – to her face. The pain that word caused, still shines in her eyes when she shares the details of that event.
A white woman that is in her late 60’s was raised in a very rural part of the U.S.. It was so rural that she was 20 years old before she saw a person of color in real life.
Because of her environment and age, this woman used the word Negro as recently as two years ago, as a descriptive term. (Much like people use the words Caucasian or Hispanic, tall or short – not understanding how much pain it can cause.)
-This white woman cares about her brothers and sisters, regardless of their skin color and wants to understand at a higher level. But she is unsure how to connect.
Not long ago, she and her husband visited the Southern part of the U.S. and took a tour of slave history. They were the only white people on the tour. She was heartbroken by what she saw and disappointed that more white people weren’t there, and even more disappointed about how awkward and uncomfortable it was. She didn’t know how to express her desire to learn, and the rest of the people on the tour were more than a little suspicious of her presence.
No matter which side of the story we relate to, how do we really know:
- When someone’s intent is malicious?
- If they don’t know what they don’t know?
- Or if they just aren’t sure how to express their compassion and desire to learn?
Then we discussed a TED Talk about a Muslim woman who lived in the U.S on Sept 11, 2001. All day long, she experienced great fear about being blamed and persecuted for something that others did. Instead of her worst fears coming true, she received amazing care and support from her community.
And we compared her experience that day to:
- The experience of one of the Muslim ladies in the room – Who was living Australia far away from her home country of Pakistan for the first time. Navigating a new culture on her own, far from her father and her husband. She was treated badly that day – not because she did anything wrong, but because some people were fearing all Muslims, based on the actions of a few.
- My experience – Living in the 4th largest city in the U.S and not knowing one Muslim. Not one. The day the planes hit, I was on a business trip in a different state. So my focus was on the safety and security of our country and my loved ones, supporting the co-workers I was with, and getting home to my husband. …And it never occurred to me to wonder what innocent Muslims were experiencing.
After meeting with one of my Muslim neighbors this summer – she shared this video with me.
- It emphasizes the temptations we all face in the midst of divisive and terrifying issues
- And recommends an uncommon solution – that each one of us can act on immediately
So before our safari ended the entire group watched it.
As fear-filled news swirls around us, and the world trys to convince us that we have to choose a side… We can choose to:
- Stay in our comfort zones and continually dwell on our anger and fear
- Talk endlessly to people who are angry and fearful of the same things we are – which only increase the size of our monsters
- Sit in judgment of those who don’t side with us
- Stop feeding the anger and fear in our thoughts and our conversations
- Leave our comfort zones and seek to understand those have different stories and perspectives
- Share what we are learning with others
One choice fuels despair, the other fuels hope.
What topics would you love to explore in a Conversation Safari?
You can host Conversations Safari’s in your living room, your dining room table, or at a larger venue in your community. If you need help getting started. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*An important mention: In one of our Safari’s I was asked if it was ok to say “white people” to describe my race. It was an instant bonding moment for the entire room as we recognized how challenging and uncomfortable it is to have these conversations. Imagine asking someone about a physical or cognitive challenge, or how to properly describe someone’s race, nationality or religion… There are very few words that all people agree on. If we all understand that – it is easier to offer each other grace and keep learning!
Image Credits: Ghadeer El-Nadoury