I wrote in a previous post that it is more important than ever to be compassionate because everyone has a story. Every one of us are the compilation of past experiences, struggles, doubts, fears, and uncertainties. We may face our own challenges about who we are, who we want to be, or who the world is telling us we should be.
The motto of our son’s school is “Learn Bravely.” One of the school’s main goals is also that each person (students and faculty) bring their“authentic selves” each day. Earlier this week, all the parents in our son’s class received an email from the teachers and counselors about a child in the class that showed an incredible amount of bravery by informing his classmates that he is transgender. I had heard the term before but didn’t fully understand it. It was explained to us and to the students that a transgender person has a gender identity that does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.
I am 41 and have never known any transgender people (at least not any that have made it known publicly), and I’m happy that our son will have a broader view of the world that many of his friends will likely not experience at such a young age. My wife and I are grateful for the diversity at his school, and it’s times like these that adults can learn so much from our children.
During dinner on the day we received the email, we had a very open conversation about his classmate’s announcement. We talked about some of the questions the students asked and about the importance of not treating his classmate any differently after his change. Our son’s response was awesome.He simply said, “it’s really cool.” Cool, indeed, to be honest about who you are.
Last weekend, he was also giving his mom and me an education on Hanukkah. A couple of his close friends at school are Jewish and he was sharing with us all he’d learned about the traditions and holidays from his friends.
When I was at EY, the company worked very hard to focus on the importance of both diversity and inclusion. I had the opportunity to hear some of our leaders speak at town hall events that were hosted in our office,and it really was hard to believe some of the experiences these people had because they are African-American. But it wasn’t just about what had happened to them. Some of their concerns focused on their children and having conversations with them about the realities of coming of age as a minority in America. As a white male, these were stories and situations I’d never even remotely considered.
I feel very lucky to have been raised by parents that had friends with different sexual, religious, or cultural preferences than their own. To my parents, that didn’t define them as their friends, and I had the benefit of being exposed to people with backgrounds different from my own at an early age.
There are plenty of people out there that are convinced their way, or their view, is the only right one. That fact, and those people,probably won’t change. But when we open ourselves to learn about, and learn from, people with a different background than our own, we can slowly but surely break down the walls of ignorance and judgement that seem to be more pervasive now than ever before.
But it’s also not just about personal preferences and cultures. I know people that have experienced the unimaginable pain of losing a child, or the death of a family member from a terrible disease. In times like this, it’s more about making ourselves available to them, letting them know we’re there for them, and supporting them however we can.
For ourselves, and for our children, we can all work on showing empathy, a genuine interest in others, and not defining others by their preferences, cultures, or experiences. Ask questions, get to know people that aren’t just like you. It’s good to be different!