Step out­side your ‘echo cham­ber’ to cul­ti­vate bet­ter friend­ships

Centre Daily Times (Sunday) - - Good Life - BY ANNE K. ARD Anne K. Ard is the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Cen­tre Safe (formerly the Cen­tre County Women’s Re­source Cen­ter), 140 W. Nit­tany Ave., State Col­lege. Con­tact her at 238-7066 or at an­

I re­cently saw a great pic­ture on Face­book that said, “Why do I wish peo­ple ‘Happy Hol­i­days’? Be­cause from 1 No­vem­ber to 15 Jan­uary there are ap­prox­i­mately 29 hol­i­days ob­served by the world’s 7 ma­jor re­li­gions. And I don’t think mine are the only ones that count.” Re­gard­less of one’s par­tic­u­lar re­li­gious tra­di­tion, this is an ex­cel­lent re­minder that although I may ex­ist at the cen­ter of my world, I am not at the cen­ter of the world. I was fur­ther re­minded of this re­al­ity upon wak­ing up the day af­ter the midterm elec­tions.

While I will leave it to the po­lit­i­cal pun­dits to sort out the mean­ing of the elec­tion, one of the things that was very clear to me was that it is too easy for many of us to spend our lives in an “echo cham­ber” sur­rounded only by those who think like we do, be­lieve the things we be­lieve, and quite of­ten look like us. That is a prob­lem if we want to have healthy com­mu­ni­ties.

The echo cham­ber of the fa­mil­iar may be com­fort­ing and re­as­sur­ing, but it is only a par­tial view of the world and we for­get that at our peril. If we only ever in­ter­act with those who are like us, our world be­comes nar­rowed and we are only able to func­tion within con­fined spa­ces. We be­gin to see those who are dif­fer­ent as “other” and when that hap­pens we too of­ten re­act with fear or with hos­til­ity.

But the re­al­ity is that we are all “other” to some­one else.

I have a friend from high school whose life path has been in many ways quite sim­i­lar to mine. He is in a long-term mar­riage with two adult chil­dren; he, too, is a Pres­by­te­rian min­is­ter not serv­ing a church; our po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tives were quite sim­i­lar in high school and col­lege. But when we re-con­nected on Face­book a cou­ple of years ago, I dis­cov­ered that our po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tives are now di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed.

Af­ter sev­eral back and forth con­ver­sa­tions over Face­book, I fi­nally asked him, “How did you get from where we were to where you are? I don’t un­der­stand.” So he told me. While I still am some­what baf­fled by his very right-of-cen­ter views, I have a con­text for them. While there are still times when his rhetoric is too much for me to deal with and too ex­haust­ing to en­gage, I still check in pe­ri­od­i­cally to see how he is do­ing or to hear about his grand­chil­dren. He still, I think, sees what I post on­line and I oc­ca­sion­ally check out his posts. In the lan­guage of Face­book, I stopped fol­low­ing him, but I couldn’t bring my­self to “un­friend” him. We are still con­nected by our shared his­tory and our shared hu­man­ity.

Clearly, there are some acts so hor­rific and some per­spec­tives so de­hu­man­iz­ing that lis­ten­ing and rea­son are not pos­si­ble. It is also clear that “oth­er­ing” has dif­fer­ent im­pacts on com­mu­ni­ties and per­sons with less power in our so­ci­ety. But I re­main hope­ful that we can find ways to talk to, live with, and care for those who are dif­fer­ent from our­selves. Those are, I be­lieve, the val­ues of Amer­ica and the things that make for healthy fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties, and a healthy world.

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