I took a quiz one time that told me I was an “extroverted introvert.” At the time I thought that made absolutely no sense, but every day since then I’ve realized how true that statement really is. I love people. I love to talk. If I ask you how your day is going, I am genuinely curious. I would love to know how you’re feeling, where you’re from and what’s important to you. At the same time, if I see you from across the grocery store, there is a slight chance I’ll pretend like I didn’t see you. Interaction can be scary, especially when it involves leaving our comfort zone. That shy version of myself is still very much alive, just like it is for many of us. I’m a firm believer that this shouldn’t stop us from reaching out and connecting to as many people as we can.
Ultimately, that is what this blog is going to be about: the great things that can happen when people/companies/organizations go the extra mile to communicate and connect with people or groups that they may not have otherwise. This extra-mile can involve many things: language barriers, cultural differences, political discrepancies, etc. All the things that make us hesitant to understand people are the reasons why we should.
I came to this conclusion after realizing that all of the times I have grown and felt the most connected to others is when I have been the most uncomfortable. When I was twenty I went on a service trip to Thailand as my first venture out of the country. I spent all summer planning, packing and preparing to try and get rid of any ounce of uneasiness. Yet even with all of the measures I took to avoid anxiety, I realized on my way to the San Francisco International Airport that this feeling was pretty inevitable. I probably would have convinced myself not to get on the plane if it wasn’t for my mom (no way she would’ve let me bail. I guess that’s what moms are for.) Two weeks later I was on my way home after teaching English in a Thai elementary school and helping build a water tank out of plastic bottles. This trip to Thailand led me to study abroad in Spain, where I had my first teaching internship and discovered that I wanted to pursue a career in Spanish-immersion education. And to think I would have missed out on all of that if I had been too uncomfortable to get on that plane in San Francisco.
Building relationships is the best way for us as individuals to grow and expand our knowledge. We are introduced to new ideas and perspectives every time we get to know someone, even if we don’t realize it. Similarly, organizations can flourish by relating to a wide range of groups with different beliefs and backgrounds. By keeping an open mind and grasping new points of view, we are better able to unite and work together to combat issues both on a small and large scale.
My hometown of Stockton, California is a great example of the benefits that can come from our communication efforts. After many years of animosity between various neighborhoods and the local police, the Stockton Police Department set out for a way to strengthen these relationships and minimize the riots and violence on both ends. They designated specific officers to monitor the neighborhoods with the sole purpose of spending time with the residents and speaking with them about their hopes and concerns for the area. Many of these officers were bilingual, which played a huge role in truly understanding people’s viewpoints. It gave citizens a voice, and showed them that their opinions truly mattered. While resident-police relations may never be perfect, this undertaking gave both the police and the locals an insight to one another’s perspective and provided a mutual understanding moving forward. It was a reminder that both parties had the same goals: to reduce crime and make Stockton a safer place for new generations. Connecting with those we feel are opposite from us often shines a light on our similarities as well, and allow us to be more productive in achieving our mutual objectives. To read more about this story in particular, you can read this article written by the Stockton Record. http://www.recordnet.com/news/20160709/matter-of-trust-community-officer-serves-guides-befriends-respects
If you feel the same way as I do about this topic, I’m really excited to share stories and ideas with you. If you feel differently, that’s okay too. All the more reason to read any way (because that’s the point.)