Invite someone to join you in a conversation about diversity, and prepare to hear “no, thanks.”
Offer to tell a story, and you will probably find folks gathering round to listen.
There’s something about stories that breaks down barriers and creates a sense of warmth and connection. Some of my personal favorites carry important cultural truths about my own heritage — the time my Mennonite Grandma Schultz observed the congregants in her husband’s church services and noticed that the “German sermons only” members laughed at the English-language jokes. “You can stop preaching two sermons a week, Abe,” she told Grandpa. “Everybody speaks English.”
Or the Harry-Potter-like accounts my Anglo-Indian father shares about his annual journey to Sherwood College boarding school in the Himalayas in the 1940s. The three-day train trip led to nine months of adventure and learning in Naini Tal, where the boys hiked in the “hills” (unless a panther alert had been issued), endured brutal classroom discipline, and eagerly welcomed the itinerant cake man, who brought his wares in a tin box and set up shop to sell crullers and eclairs.
Or my husband’s tales, alternately sidesplitting and heartbreaking. One of 13 children born to Mississippi Delta African Americans who’d left the South to swap picking cotton for more promising pursuits, he attended segregated schools until junior high. Along the way, he learned to drive a trash truck at age 8, witnessed real-life Black Panther activists in action, and escaped death more than once. His accounts of his expansive, enterprising family never fail to amaze me.
Diversity really means the panoply of human experience — always colorful, always surprising, always better on the inside than the outside (also known as stereotyping). As children we learn that it’s good to try new things — broccoli, for instance, or swimming, or flying a kite. As adults, we tend to narrow down our daily lives to what’s comfortable and unthreatening.
Growth is necessary for a life well lived. Some personal-development trainers like to declare, “Grow or die!” but it’s really more like, “Grow or be bored,” or “Grow or be left behind.” Better yet, how about “Grow and be happy!”
The I&C team at SCCC aims to offer opportunities this year to savor the stories that help us grow. Along the way, we hope to foster a sense of connection, kindness, and community. Two state and national initiatives provide a great starting point for personal world expansion.
One Small Step, a joint project from Story Corps and High Plains Public Radio, provides a chance to swap stories. You can click on the video at the right of our main I&C webpage to learn more about one such encounter between a Trump supporter and an observant Muslim: they became, if not friends, at least friendly acquaintances.
“No matter their political leanings, a majority of Americans agree that divisiveness is a major problem impacting our ability to deal with the pandemic and serious challenges facing our country. There is hope: A majority of Americans also say they are optimistic that our country can overcome political divisiveness in the years ahead. At a moment like this, aren’t we called to try to find a better way forward — together? One Small Step is an effort to reconnect Americans, one conversation at a time.”
If you are more in the mood to listen than to talk, the Kansas Humanities Hotline offers an array of short stories about the Kansas experience — culture, history, and more. The hotline is accessible by phone or through Soundcloud on any computer. We will be highlighting several favorites during Hispanic Heritage Month.