How to overcome what divides us

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By Marisa Geitner, President and C.E.O.

As we continue to explore together what it means to Welcome Community, I can’t help but call out a hurdle that we all need to confront and overcome. Fear.

When anger creeps in and shapes our attitudes it drives us to separate and circle with others who feed our opinions and disgust. It’s called common enemy intimacy and it is a counterfeit connection that breeds hate and divide; and yet at some point or another we all fall victim to it. Why?  Because we’re afraid of things we don’t understand and fear drives us to behave in ways that are isolating. That’s also why in these same times we feel the deepest sense of loneliness – we are afraid and are choosing to group with people who feed our fear. If that wasn’t enough, fear limits us to seek the very experiences that help us learn and move through fear… and absent those experiences we only perpetuate hurtful and segregating behavior. The divides grows. It’s a vicious circle that seems to be wrapping around us like a whirlpool these days. So what’s the step out of the vortex?  Get close!  That’s right. Get close!  Step in to the things you are struggling to understand. Find it within yourself to ask clarifying questions to those who express ideas or opinions that seem different than your own. Listen up and see how it shapes your opinion and more importantly your relationship. We can have differing views and still demonstrate respect. Let’s stop working so hard to avoid the very same people we need to be working the hardest to engage in the health of our vital community.

Recently I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Timothy Shriver, chair of Special Olympics International share his passion on what he terms the “Inclusion Revolution.” He renewed my spirit by reminding me that I am surrounded by those who are the best positioned to lead our country through this time of hate and separation. After all, who better than those who have some of the greatest experience with being excluded – those living with disabilities – to lead us. In the face of adversity and views different from their own they have shown courage and understanding. They continue to forge forward despite what Dr. Shriver calls “attitudes of mass destruction.” They not only continue to create spaces where all are welcomed, they are powerfully showing their contribution to the relationship of community. I am thankful to have such well-educated, dedicated guides to help me navigate this journey forward.

Welcome Community!