Befriend the Other
This simple and profound action invites you to befriend and learn from people who are different from you.
“When you want to build a ship, instead of gathering wood and assigning tasks, awaken in people’s hearts a desire for the endless immensity of the sea.”
-Antoine de St Exupéry
Earlier this week I published an article on Medium called “There are People in the Country Besides Politicians.” Inspired by a quote from newsperson Charles Kuralt that includes that line, the story intends to make the point that there are a lot of positive things going on around us despite the polarized news stories we have been inundated with lately.
The story goes on to say that it’s important we pay attention and contribute to these positive things, and gives suggestions on how to recognize them.
In today’s story, I hope to provide a “next step” that well-meaning people can take if they want to contribute to a decrease in the divisiveness around us.
Step 2 is summed up in three words:
Befriend the Other
When you “Befriend the Other,” you step beyond your comfort zone to reach out in some way to someone who thinks differently and ask them to be your friend.
How do you find them?
The answer is found in this explanation from David Gershon, the person behind the idea:
“This simple and profound action invites you to befriend and learn from the people who are different from you. Look for them throughout your life: they live on your block, you work with them, they are in your community, they show up in your email inbox, and if you are more adventurous, they live all over the planet.”
(It may be of interest to know that Gershon developed the “Befriend the Other” concept as part of his Seven Steps to World Peace. “Befriend the Other” is step three, and you can read all seven steps in order beginning at this link.)
If you aren’t quite ready to seek out someone who is different from you, there is an intermediate step — take time to learn about and engage in the traditions of people different from you.
You do this by listening to the music, learning about the art, studying a dance, and tasting the foods from other cultures. Many of these things you can do by simply changing what you watch on TV for an evening, or by renting a culture-based documentary, or by checking out a book or movie at the library. It’s fascinating to learn how people different from you experience birth, coming of age, marriage, and death, among other things.
One thing some neighbors and I did last year was visit different places of worship. We all commented on the genuine friendliness we experienced at the Sikh Temple, and the camaraderie we felt while participating in a walking meditation at the Shambhala Center. I’m looking forward to experiencing the silence of a Quaker meeting.
Consider, too, other ways that make sense to you that honor the “Befriend the Other” concept.
Please be aware that befriending someone doesn’t mean you have to agree with their beliefs or points of view. In fact, the opposite is actually quite intended. Part of the idea is to bring people together who are different in order to begin to understand these differences. When we do, we also become more cognizant of how much we have in common.
And for the effort, the world naturally and immediately becomes less polarized and less divisive.
For a little further inspiration, and to see you are not alone in wanting to make the world a better place, please watch this music video:
(This article is part of my work to promote ordinary acts of kindness. Learn more at https://kindliving.net.)