What They Have To Bring

23 Oct

Have you ever been in the situation where you do not engage with someone because you perceive that it takes more energy than you have to engage with that person? Have you ever chosen to engage only with your closest friends and not extend a welcoming hand towards a new person because it’s easier just to relate to your friends? Have you ever felt a sigh of relief when someone leaves a space because it felt extra difficult to interact with them? I have.

I know that there have been times when I can’t muster up the energy to talk to someone or include them in my group because of the perceived extra amount of energy it would take on my part to engage with someone. Perhaps it is someone who doesn’t speak my language as fluently as I, and I can’t find enough effort inside of me to break the language barrier. Or perhaps we have different political views, and it is easier for me to write them off as a lunatic. Or perhaps we have different backgrounds, races, socioeconomic status, religions, cultures, sexualities, intelligences, abilities, or life situations. I know that I have done it. I have excluded people or failed to engage with someone because it seems harder to do so than not to do so.

It is my perception that admitting this is a social taboo. Society says that to admit that I have actively decided not to talk to another person or include them in my group because of a certain trait of theirs is to reveal a shadow in my character, or perhaps even to show that I am a bad person. I believe that we often do not admit to ourselves our inability to always be the best people we can be. We have learned that it is better to pretend like we always do the right thing so that we can maintain our image as good people. But, really, we are good people; we just don’t always do the right thing. I know that I don’t always do the right thing.

So, here’s my saying that I have actively failed to include someone or reach out to someone because I just didn’t want to and because it seemed like too much energy. This also implies that I make judgments based on a person’s physical, intellectual, and cultural characteristics, and I make assumptions about how much energy it will take of me to interact with them. Sometimes I don’t gather up the energy, and on some occasions, that has meant that I have dropped the ball to reach out to someone in need, to make a new friend, or to include someone in a community to which they have a lot to contribute.

It occurred to me recently that maybe I should challenge my current mindset and think about considering another. Instead of assessing how much energy a social interaction will require of me based on how different or unfamiliar someone is to me, perhaps I should see the inherent value of another person and cherish their presence simply because they are present and they are human. This shouldn’t be a surprising realization for me; in my two years of attending Buddhist meditation, I learned how to love people equally through compassionate contemplation. Yet, what is achieved in meditation can be difficult to practice in day to day life. I still make judgments about people, sometimes I use assumptions and stereotypes to create those judgments, and sometimes I fail to fully see the humanity in others.

So, questions arise in my mind as I think about this: What if, in a group setting, my first and foremost goal is inclusion of all participating persons? What if I forget about how much energy is required of me in a social interaction and first just appreciate each individual’s presence in the space? What if each person’s smile mattered to me equally? What if my assumption is that someone else is inherently a blessing in my life instead of a demand of my attention and effort?

I think in this society and in the English language, we talk about others as if they are a problem that needs to be “dealt with” or “handled.” How do we ‘deal with’ those with disabilities? How do we ‘handle’ the “immigrant problem?” What do we ‘do with’ those on welfare? We often find how others fit into a category and determine based on that category what is the needed plan of behavior. This mentality affects our daily lives, too. Ever complain to your friends that during the holidays you had to ‘manage’ your uncle who talks too much about politics? Or perhaps you have tried to figure out how to ‘deal with’ your sister or cousin who has come out as a lesbian?  Or perhaps you feel like you have to ‘handle’ the socially awkward person who wants to hang out with you and your friends. We often describe social interactions as something that expends unnecessary effort on our part. I know this has entered my psychology, and I think about people in these terms, too. I think it has entered the psychology of all of us.

Working at a campus ministry, I am learning a lot about inclusion. Our ministry strives for inclusion, and actively so. What I am finding is that when we say “welcome” sincerely, and with open hearts and minds, it is so much easier to love others effortlessly. I begin to see what people have to bring to the table rather than what they may take away. It is difficult not to feel joy for the presence and life of others when I say welcome truly and emphatically. It is true that sometimes relationships with some are more challenging that with others. But it also feels really good to say, “Welcome!” and “Thank you for being here.” It feels really good simply to value another person just because.

Ultimately, there are some interactions that do require a lot of energy from us. This can be true more so for introverts than for extroverts. But perhaps the question is not really about how much energy needs to go into an interaction or a relationship. Perhaps it is just a question of appreciating the life in other people.

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