Before closing this series of ideas, there is an experience that I would like to share. My reason for this little handbook is to show that life can be relatable, regardless of our differences. My aim is to focus on the goals and the tasks at hand, which at this point (and given the mood of the current climate) we find ourselves in new territory. Regardless of the viral outbreaks or the rise and fall of our economy, the world is still moving.
My main objective is to promote commonality. My hopes are that rather than debate, we can learn to celebrate our differences instead of argue or judge. I can say that although our moments on the playground at school are in the past or perhaps different; the lessons we learned are exceptionally real. We learned about the various levels of social government. We learned who was cool and who was not. We learned about the social draws of the popular crowds and the peer-pressures of our society.
We learned about the differences of the crowd or how to interact, and thus, this is where social biases began. This is where our trained ideas, thoughts and behaviors were born and moreover, this is where our subconscious programming began.
I can say that I’ve never met anyone who asked to be the odd one or the rejected one. I can say that I have never met anyone who chose anxiety over comfort. No one ever chose to be picked last or rejected, singled out or bullied. Yet, this is something that happens. No one asked to find themselves conflicted with their identity nor feel the shame for the way they identified themselves. We have been taught about the social norms and yet, what does this mean? We have all been sold a blueprint of how to live but the blueprints we have been given are not fitting for everyone.
We are fortunately and exceptionally unique.
My first recollection of the crowd was while standing in the double doors of a cafeteria. This was my first day in seventh grade. I was small and much younger looking. I was used to a small cafeteria in a small elementary school with smaller kids and smaller tables.
However, I can remember the feeling of anxiousness when I entered the lunchroom. I can remember the look of the crowd and the different chapters of popularity. I could see on the right hand side of the room, which is where all of the athletes sat. This was the popular crowd. I could see them, all pretty, all wearing some kind of school jersey for whichever team they played for. They were a clique but more, they were a brand of social government who determined the rules and regulations of the so-called “In-Crowd.”
On the left side of the cafeteria was a different crowd. They were equally popular; however, their energy was extremely different. They were the bad kids. They were the ones that broke the rules. They were the opposite or the antithesis of the sport crowd or “Jocks,” as we called them. They were different but still, they had status. They were mentioned and noticed.
Meanwhile, in the center of the lunchroom was a sea of unknown faces. They were in the middle. They were unnoticed or unnoticeable, uninvited and unincluded. No one ever asked to be the one who is unnoticed or unaccepted. But somehow, the powers that be deemed who is popular and who is not. The popular deem who is pretty; who is desirable and who are the ones that will always remain on the outskirts looking in. The “In-Crowd,” dictates who is uninvited, uncool, unwelcomed and unincluded in the highlights of wild teenage parties or social gatherings.
One would think this ends at high school but then again, let’s take a deeper look at this. How far have we come? There are still cliques and still the social draws and need to be noticed, valued, included and invited. I have been part of different working environments. I have worn both blue and white collars and yet, people are still people and science is still science regardless of their job title or income. More and more, I learn about the science of the crowd. I have learned about the science of our biases and the struggles of our cultural competency. I have learned and seen proof that bullying exists far beyond the sandbox in grade school. In fact, bullying is alive and well at all ages. Discrimination is real. Racism is real. Ageism and sexism are real. Our biases and trained ways of thinking are real. So is the need to update our understanding of one another. This is the way to create a better sense of social competency between us.
Same as it was in high school where not everyone will get along; the same can be said in the boardroom or in the break room at work. However, much like high school, whether we liked each other or not, we still had to go. We had to show up and pass or not – and if we failed, then what? Be a dropout?
What does that mean?
Here is where we learned about the benefits of education. We learned about label and name recognition with ideas such as “Oh, you went to Harvard?” We hear questions like this all the time, “Where did you go to school?” and what happens if you sit in a crowd of people from Yale or the upper crust and have to answer, “I went to community college.”
There are biases here the same as there were biases in the parking lot at high school when people asked, “What kind of car do you drive?” We have been bred by comparison. And yet, here we are trying to get along and celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion. The truth is we are all diverse. We are all different. And yet, we are all just looking to make it through the day the same as we did when we were back at school.
Of course, I understand that my analogies might not relate to everyone. We all have our own backgrounds. Rather than compare, I propose these ideas to suggest that at the core, we can all relate (at least a little bit).
I spent a summer of my teenage years working as a helper in a small mechanical company. I worked with people from different backgrounds who spoke different languages and came from different countries. They were grown men. They ate different foods and lived different lives and yet, each morning, they came to work to earn their living and feed their families. They did not always get along. They might not have always liked each other but no matter what, whether the day was good or bad, the work had to be done.
My upbringing was different from theirs. I lived in a suburban town with normal, everyday streets in what I assumed was a normal, everyday life. My exposure to different cultures was minimal at best. I was young and of course, my priorities were much different from theirs.
I never thought much about working for a living nor did I have to. I never thought much about the energy it takes to get up in the morning, each and every day, like it or not, and make it to work and deal with traffic or deal with bills or rent or a mortgage. I never thought much about an annuity, pension or a retirement fund. I can say that these were some of the best men I have ever met in my life. They worked hard. They brought food from home in a bagged lunch. They learned to put their differences to the side because arguing does nothing but stall productivity,
They say you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. It is said that we have no control over people, places and things. We can’t control who likes us or chooses us. However, we can’t always choose who we work with either. We might not like each other. We might not get along. We might come from different backgrounds and we might have a different belief system. Our politics might be different. Our opinions might be different and the same thing can be said about our cultures, but yet, we still have a job to do.
In closing, my ideas to find the commonality between us might be as easy as saying there is no commonality, which is fine. Perhaps it is safer to normalize our differences and let go of our cultural misperceptions. We don’t have to be the same but same or different or even like each other, either way, we are all part of this thing I like to call Project Earth. Like it or not, we have to find a way to get through the day; and currently, we find ourselves at the birth of a rebuild.
We are trying to break through the post-Covid shutdown and just like it was in high school, we might not like the teachers but either way, we have to learn the lessons.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my ten ideas. And by the way, these are only ideas to help create a better connection. I am open to corrections and I am open to learning more. After all, my goal is to “Be the Better and Embrace the Culture.”
That’s what this is all about; being better, learning to embrace each other, get through the day and by all means, to live the best possible life.
Note: I was one of those kids on the left side of the cafeteria. I was told that I was never going to amount to anything. It was said that I would be dead before my 18th birthday. I had teachers that promised I would be a failure. In fact, I am reminded of this each time I do a college lecture. I was a poor student with learning disabilities. I used to stutter when reading aloud in class. In fact, if students took turns reading paragraphs, I’d count the number of students before me and then I would count the paragraphs (Praying it would be a short one) and then I would try to read and rehearse this so that I wouldn’t stutter or “Sound” stupid.
I think back about this and say, “Look at all of that judgment!”
Look at all of that pressure. It’s no wonder that I stuttered nor is it any wonder why I’d quit before I’d start.
Am I diverse though?
I’m as diverse as they come.
And do you know what?
So are you (thankfully).