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  • Writer's pictureLaRissa Paras

Finding Common Ground

You might have noticed that I have been cutting down on blogging... I'm still writing, but I'm working on a BOOK. Here's a taste of that. It's a work in progress. And if you'd like to continue to stay in touch, I spend time on Instagram @thelotuproject. See you there!

Growing up we tend to pair up and group up with people who act like us, dress like us, look like us, etc. I think this is a very natural thing for us to do as humans but it also really limits our experiences if we don’t ever reach out. Yes, it’s important to have a tribe and love them hard, but it’s equally important to learn from people outside of the bubble we tend to find comfort in.

When I went off to college, I met a girl my freshman year. Her name was Lisa and we both worked at the front desk of our all-girls dorm, aptly called The Virgin Vaults by the upperclassmen. She was a year ahead of me, a little rough around the edges and did some risky shit that I had only ever read about in cautionary tales. She looked like a hardened rockstar next to my innocent girl next-door vibe. And I was fascinated by her. If we had been in high school, my mother would have forbidden me from hanging out with her outside of school. As a mother now, I sort of get it.

These days, everybody and their grandmother has a tattoo. But when I met Lisa, only people with “alternative lifestyles'' had them. One of her tattoos was one of the monsters from “Where the Wild Things Are“ and she held my hand when I got my first tattoo. She told me tales of dropping acid and tripping hard, which scared the shit out of me so I’ve never done it. (Sometimes having control issues works well for me.) On occasion, we shared swigs of cheap whiskey some roommate brought to the front desk for us. What I realized by spending time with Lisa From the Front Desk was that although we came from different families, regions, upbringings and experiences was that we really wanted the same things in life. We wanted to be loved, to feel heard, to protect the people that couldn’t protect themselves, and to do better for the earth. We were just going about it in different ways. We were able to look past our Pollyanna/Rockstar differences and learn from each other and even have a friendship for a little while. We were able to see a fellow human being instead of the “other” label that can divide us so hard. We found commonalities in our lives, shared magazine articles about saving the planet, and promoted safe sex to the other residents from our front desk perch. We did not stay friends after that year and it was probably because our PRIORITIES in life were different. But, meeting Lisa reminded me to judge less, listen more and ask more questions.

An old high school friend came out as a proud gay man when we were in college. And his story broke my heart. I was NOT heartbroken because he was gay, I was upset by how he had been treated growing up. It was the 90s and it was very rare (well, in my small northern town anyway) for people to be openly gay. When he told me about how scared he was, how he had attempted suicide because he felt like people hated him for who he was, it rocked my world. I had been a part of those subtle jabs without knowing their impact. Using the word “gay” to insult someone or something. (Like, you have a test to study for? That’s gay.) And then, worse yet, if someone thought you might be gay or just really wanted to socially ruin you, they would start calling you gay or spreading that rumor. You would’ve been ostracized, attacked, shunned, and would have basically had a shittier high school life. Friends would have left, people would gossip. So, when my talented, funny, charming friend told me he was gay and he had found a supportive group of friends in college, I was so happy for him and proud of him. He was the bravest person I knew at that moment. And I felt honored that he trusted me with his truth. I also realized a couple of things.

One, using the word “gay” as a derogatory term was going to end for me and the people in my circles. Words matter and this is a lesson I still continue to teach. Yes, I still have to have this conversation with some students 20 years later, but thankfully, not as often. Two, my friend and I had a lot in common. At that moment, I was in the midst of an eating disorder. And what I realized was that we both wanted to feel comfortable in our own skin, we want people to love and except us as we were. And we were just starting to realize that our voices in this world matter. Living our truth also feels a lot better than living a lie. Although, it may feel vulnerable at first.

I have a photograph in my house of a Sudanese mother holding her child hand outside of her mud hut. The sky and homes are very muted but the mother is wearing a stunning red wrap. When I first saw this picture I was drawn to her because she was me and I was her. I realize by all outside appearances we are completely different in looks and in lifestyle. But we want the same things in our moments of motherhood. We want to love and protect our children. Her image has continued to inspire me to connect with people and find common ground. No matter how different we might look or how different our backgrounds are.

I feel like sometimes it’s easier for people to give into their natural bias than to take the time to really listen to others. Generally, we want the same things like safety, love, freedom, and acceptance. Our journeys and methods to get these things are different and that’s where we start to come undone as a society. That’s when we start seeing people as “other” and that becomes the enemy we want to fight against. In recent years, politically, it seems that we cannot see our common desires because we are so hung up on the methods of getting there. We've forgotten how to listen and compromise.

Finding common ground in the humanity and others doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with everyone you meet. It’s a way to be respectful and to learn from others. It helps build human connection, which we all need in order to thrive. It builds empathy, which our society sometimes seems to lack a lot of these days.

It starts with listening to understand, not simply to respond. Open your ears to open your hearts.

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