Diversity…The Golden Rule.
This month we are talking about diversity. As a kid I grew up in Concord, Massachucettes where diversity was a word that didn't come up too often. My mother who is a card carrying democrat and actively participated in the civil rights movement, still refers to the Taylors as the "black family". My school had no diversity and yet I felt connected to all beings and was raised to love and respect all people.
The reality was, when I went out into the world I was a little shocked and fascinated by all the different people in the world. My true awakening began as I became a full time street performer. I had many interactions with every possible race, sexual orientation, economic status, gender and transgender. I learned quickly two things.
1. Appearances can be deceiving.
People are great at detecting someone who feels superior. I was in many situations where I would have a large crowd of several hundred while doing a street show and a random person would wonder into the middle of the show. Typically, this would be a homeless person that had some mental disconnects or someone very drunk or on drugs. After years of learning from what worked, it turned out honesty and befriending them was always the best method. Being a arrogant ass doesn't make anyone want to help you out. I would simply come up and put my arm around them and ask how they were doing and what they were looking for. I mentioned that, like them I was just trying to make a living and was in the middle of a show and if they could help me out. More often than not they had no idea what was happening, only that there was a crowd. They were often surprised by my reaction and I could see them change as I spoke with them and not at them. To these outcasts, most exchanges with other people involved screaming at them and physical assault.
I never knew what would happen with these exchanges but my memory of them now was that once I stopped trying to force my expectation and desires on them I was able to make a friend and not a enemy. Many of these people would become friends of mine and come and watch every show and even help me out.
On several occasions my car was broken into and all my show stuff was stolen from the trunk of my car. In both cases, friends of mine that lived in the nearby woods found my stuff or knew who had done it and made sure I got it all back.
People whom on first impression seemed good, clean and "normal" showed by their actions that they were not to be trusted. I have learned to never judge and put my best forward to all and then see how they treat me back. Some of my homeless and addicted friends went on to get jobs and improve their situation. I don't claim to have been the cure, but as a street performer I was making something from nothing. Juggling on the streets and passing the hat was an inspiration to some, that had no hope and no idea they could be part of the real world.
I went on to work in review shows and venues around the world where many of my best friends where gay, transgender, bi, black, red, short, tall, you name it. Each time I kept my heart open and learned to see past what my scared tribal self was trying to do. It's hard to hate a group of people when one them is your friend.
I still feel that twinge in my stomach of stereotypes welling up inside me. When I lived in NYC I would see many hasidic jews with typical black hats, hair curls and black clothing. I had never seen anything like it and despite my feeling of openness for all, I still had this feeling in me. I was buying my first computer at a 47th Street Photo in New York City run by hasidic jews and was forced to meet and interact. My sales person was Shlomo. He was one the most knowledgable, kind and funny person I had met in a long time. We quickly became friends my "twinge" was gone. Shattered by friendship and humor.
I would encourage you to confront your stereotypes. Force yourself out of your comfort zone. Make a new friend. Pick the one person you would never meet, never know and never interact with. You'll be surprised how small the world becomes, how much you will learn from each other and how we can make this world a better place.
I will leave you with one my favorite quotes by Mark Twain.
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