Gaining a New Perspective

At a staff meeting a few weeks ago, Aaron asked the rest of us if we had made any New Year's resolutions. As someone who usually does not actively choose a resolution, I was relieved when the question began going around the circle in a way that left me last. My mind raced, and I thought, "What could I do?" Quickly, I came up with two resolutions that I thought would be worthwhile. The first was to do a better job of calling my grandmother to check in. The second was to knock 50 books off my reading list over the course of the year. I felt good about committing to doable resolutions that were both meaningful to me. But after a few weeks of working on them successfully, I had a thought about my reading list. Let me set it up for you...

I'm a member of a social media website called "Goodreads" which basically chronicles a person's favorite books, what they have read, what they want to read, and what their friends are reading. Yes, it's as nerdy as that sounds. I had several books in various states of being read strewn about my house, on my phone, and the like, but was checking out Goodreads to figure out what books I should dive into next. I looked through my list of read books, and noticed a pattern: most of them were written by folks who came from a similar perspective to me. The list was made up of predominantly male authors. Most of them were White, many were from the United States, almost all were straight. These were usually educated people, and a lot were not coming from a place of poverty. The majority of these authors were Christians.

As this reality dawned on me, part of me immediately rationalized the situation in a stream of consciousness. "Sure they were mostly White males, but White males publish more books than other folks in the United States, which is where I live, and that explained the American-centric list of books, and did I really know the sexual identity of all these folks, and maybe some of them grew up in poverty..." Before I knew it, I had a laundry list of reasons justifying the books I had read, and those reasons were ready and waiting to be used along with my library card to pick up another good book from a similar perspective.

Yet something inside me paused. I remembered that a plethora of mentors and valued leaders, both within the spheres of community development and Christianity, have urged me to listen to folks with a different perspective than my own. As I sat there, I decided that it was high time to listen to some voices that I didn't hear as often. This means that this year I'm going to read lots of works by women, folks of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, and people adhering to different religions. I've got a book by an autistic man on the list, by a convicted felon, by adoptive parents, a celibate person. I'll be reading about a Christian trying to reconcile his sexual identity with his faith, a homeless man who makes friends with someone from the middle class, and an undocumented immigrant. I'll read biographies about potential candidates for the 2016 Presidential election from both sides of the aisle.

What strikes me most about this adaptation of my resolution is how much more excited I am about it now. I'm already reading more voraciously than I was a month ago, and I believe that's in part due to the intrigue of learning from such different sources. I'd like to mention just a couple of the books that I'm greatly enjoying so far, and how their stories are affecting how I look at the neighborhoods in which I work.

First off, I've learned a lot from the book, "I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban." Malala Yousafzai is a girl from Pakistan whose father has run schools there. Both have a deep passion for education, especially education for girls. Many of the schools for girls have been blown up or attacked by the Taliban, yet Malala spoke both locally and internationally on behalf of the students living under regimes meaning to keep women from learning. Her story of bravery in the face of real danger and her unbreakable desire to see girls educated remind me that I need to be on the look out in my neighborhoods for ways to empower the women around me to take up leadership positions in their community. Though our school systems are not under threat of terror in the same way as Pakistani schools are, our neighborhoods have identified improving education as something to address. Maybe our own Malala is waiting to be discovered here in Abilene, ready to join in the work of creating an even better educational system for everyone.

I've been listening to an audio book version of Dr. Atul Gawande's "Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End," and it has been fascinating. After some difficulty making through the beginning portions that were diagnosing problems with how we care for our aging population, mainly because those sections were full of tough stories with no easy solutions apparent, I've reached a cluster of encouragement. I just heard of a nursing home that brought in two dogs, four cats, and one hundred parakeets, along with living plants for each room and an after school kids program. By infusing the nursing home with life in the laughter of children, the song of birds, and the energy of furry friends, the facility was able to transform into a place that was more like a real home. Folks living there experienced a feeling of having more purpose and reason for living.

The book is reminding me about how important older neighbors are in our communities, and that activity and purpose can have a huge effect on folks. Elderly people still have so much that they can bring to the table of community, and it's more than the cliche answers like "wisdom." When given the opportunity, many older folks are willing and able to do much more than we give them credit for, and we do ourselves and our communities a disservice when we make the assumption that their aid is unneeded. This book has reminded me of a treasure trove of resources within our neighborhoods that often goes untapped.

In closing, I'd like to encourage any readers of this blog to seek out some different perspectives. Whether that's by reading a book, watching a TED talk, or simply sitting down with someone a little different than you. Also, if you have some suggestions of books I should check out, feel free to comment below.