This is a series of posts designed to help people approach diversity and inclusion. These are questions and scenarios we’ve actually heard or seen in the wild. This is part of our corporate programming for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. For more information, click here.
Question: The US is so divided because the melting pot isn’t working–we each have cultural identities outside of “American” that will never disappear, so how can we ever be one cohesive community?
Lauren is a 30-something, agnostic, unmarried, Asian-American woman who lives in the Bay Area, California. David is a 60-something, married with an adult son, Zen Juddhist man who lives in Flint, Michigan.
David Stanley and Lauren Yee write a regular column for The Good Men Project in which they write on various chosen topics without previous discussion with each other and then we combine their respective points of view.
I feel pretty confident in who I am as a person, and a big part of that comes from being accepted early in my life. I was born and raised in California and my parents weren’t the stereotypical “strict Asian parents” that you often hear about, who want their kids to act a particular way or have specific goals or professions. They didn’t make me feel like there was a right or wrong way to be a person, so I always felt like I could be myself around them and didn’t need to pretend to be someone else or fit into a box. I think it probably helped that they, themselves, were also both born and raised in California, and had a similar upbringing experience with their parents.
This foundational understanding, that simply “being” is enough for you to matter, allowed me to feel a sense of belonging in my home and within my family. Never feeling personally “othered” set my expectations for the people I surrounded myself with and how I conducted myself as I have moved through life. It made me a strong – STRONG – believer in people being able to be their unique, weird, true selves – assuming that it’s not harming anyone else. We’re all just people, spending some time on this rock that’s spinning through space, around a shiny ball of gas… I accept you and you accept me, and we’re all allowed to exist here together. Maybe we even share some joy along the way. That’s community. Okay, maybe it’s not quite that simple and straightforward, but kind of!
Community is a buzzword these days, isn’t it, Lauren? I’m a Jew, so whether I want in, or not, I’m part of the Jewish Community. I’m a 63 year old white man, ipso facto, I am part of the patriarchy. Not a community I would join by choice, but the evidence is clear; just look at my profile pic.
Community is good. A community of proximity binds us. It makes our neighborhood safer and stronger. While I know most of my neighbors, I have neighbors directly to the north that I do not know. They travel a lot. Yet, I guarantee if I saw anything suspicious over there, I’d dial 9-1-1 like it was my own home at risk. While many of us have lived here for years, others move in, and three years later, they’re onto something new. It’s a community in flux. Anyone can join, anyone can leave. It’s not like a “Blood in, Blood out” thing. A community by proximity is not necessarily a community at all, is it?
The US Jewish community is an established community. Jews have been in North America since about 1650. According to Jewish Law, if Mom is Jewish, so are you. My thought has always been, “If the fascists and nazis start rounding up Jews again, whether you put up a Christmas tree or not, they’re coming for you.”
Whether you choose to participate in Jewish life, that’s entirely up to you. More importantly, the branches of Judaism create a diverse community. On matters of DEI, Jews range from right-wing fascist MAGA-nationalists, to way the heck over to the far, far left of Bernie Sanders, and all points in-between. On economics, we are wealthy beyond belief, and as poor as you can possibly imagine. It is a community of inclusion by birth.
But wait, it gets more confusing. While I am 100% all in on the Reform Jewish goal of Tikkun Olam (Heal the World); in fact, it’s my raison d’etre, I’m 100% out on issues of religious magic and etched in stone rituals and theocracy. I suspect a lot of Jews wouldn’t consider me Jewish at all.
Yet a community by inclusion is still not the sort of community we’re talking about, is it?
You know how it goes, David; as we get older, our world tends to expand and things seem to get more complex and nuanced. Most communities we’re a part of are more complicated and intertwined than that. But for the sake of talking about it, I’m gonna try to simplify it a little bit.
I can think of a few different categories of community: 1) the kind that you choose and hone – friends and family; 2) the kind that you want to join out of interest – clubs, teams, and associations; and 3) the kind that you are a part of merely by existing – your neighborhood and workplace, or your ethnicity and gender.
Friends (and hopefully family) are the most reliable group for us to feel comfortable and accepted, because we have so much agency in making those connections and maintaining those relationships. It’s more of a one-on-one interaction and a choice from both sides; so if one person is feeling unseen or unheard, then the relationship doesn’t even have to continue. The relationships that we choose to keep become our closest community.
That next level outwards are the groups that we more often find by seeking out the places and causes we like first. Having some sort of baseline connection anchors that group and gives it focus. When you’re part of a bigger, already existing thing like maybe Girl Scouts or a Lion’s Club or even a workplace, you sort of get a friends-by-proximity thing.
We both belong, by choice, to a bunch of joyful communities. For me, bike riders and skiers and musicians and guys who like to cook real BBQ and do theater. Some of these folks, I have been friends and allies and traveling companions with since the 1980s. A few go back to the 1970s. We’ve gotten married together, had kids together, got divorced together, lost kids, lost spouses. There’s history within the stories we share. With them, I have a strong sense of longstanding community.
It’s a community of common interests. Yet, that’s still not the kind of community we’re talking about.
I’m always up for community service. We have to heal the world. When I think service, I think about time spent roofing for Habitat for Humanity. The Christmases and Easters when I prepped and served and cleaned at the soup kitchen. I think about hours spent in the biology lab at U-Michigan-Flint when the Flint River Watershed Coalition staged their annual ‘Health of the River” evaluation. I used my Michigan State zoology degree to help folks identify the small creatures in their water samples.
Community service is deeply satisfying. Still, I often feel that community service is a bandage. Take my home of Flint. I can help frame a few houses, do some finish carpentry, and absolutely, a few families’ lives will be improved. But until we work on the systemic racism and poverty issues that make organizations like Habitat so damned necessary, I haven’t changed the big picture. I feel we’re talking about something still bigger, a community that makes a difference in a fundamental and generative way.
A friend once told me “I love individuals, but I don’t like people.” and I’m not sure truer words have ever been spoken. That final version of community includes spaces that we have less control over, and even that has subsections. Becoming part of a group, simply because of physical placement or location, is jarring and can be anxiety-ridden.
One of my first real experiences with feeling like I didn’t belong was at the tail end of elementary school. For perfectly legitimate grown-up reasons, my family moved when I was in the middle of fifth grade – that’s right, over winter break. It wasn’t incredibly far, but it was absolutely far enough – about 45 minutes away from everything and everyone I knew up until that point in my life, and a completely new school district. It sucked. Everyone around me – new classmates, my family – seemed to be fine and going about their lives like it was no big deal. For me, it felt jarring and isolating. I was quieter and more shy than usual, and internally a little bit angry that I suddenly felt like I had to hold my cards closer to my chest, until I figured out what was allowed or okay in this new space. To be clear, nobody was actively mean in this case, but nobody was actively inviting and open either. For a good month or two, I did a lot more observing than participating or talking, and I didn’t feel like myself.
Having had this experience, whenever I do have the ability and opportunity to welcome others into new spaces, I try to do just that. I actually take a lot of pride in being able to actively practice being curious about new people and wanting to understand them. Communicating to others that you are making space for them can be done in a multitude of ways, both small and big, and sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference. Action and inaction are equally powerful. When I was the president of my university’s “Hawaii club”, I made sure to say “hi” to or at least acknowledge every person when they arrived at practices or meetings. Being seen, even with a simple head nod, smile or wave, learning people’s names, can show them that they should be there. When I managed a team, I did my best to applaud, thank, and share with others when someone came up with a unique idea for how to present a project, or made a suggestion for how to streamline a process or deal with a possible client situation. I knew I had answers, but that didn’t mean others didn’t have value to contribute as well.
Lauren, you and I belong to a community by choice, a community of mission. That’s what we’re talking about here. Community that makes a difference. We are united to make our corner of the world a better place; more inclusive, more equitable, more fair and even-handed, a world where everyone has a seat at the table. That’s how we met, right? It was at the Dad 2.0 Summit in San Antonio. You and your group are strong allies for men who want a better world for themselves, their significant others, and their kids. The dads present at the con were, and are, strong allies of feminist women who want the same.
My odyssey into my community of mission got its start when I became a Dad-blogger. I wrote a lot about fatherhood issues: how tough it could be for a man to be the caretaker parent, issues involved with shared parenting, and the emotional issues that boys deal with as they mature into good men. I wrote to ensure that our boys would not become trolls who adopt ‘toxic masculinity’ as their raison d’être. As I wrote, I learned how hard it also was for women placed in many of those same circumstances. I saw how much better life would be for the next generation if all genders and identities were allies in DEI and parenting issues.
The more I wrote, the more I came to understand how much power I wielded as an ally. It wasn’t always a piece going viral; read and shared 1000s of times. My gut tells me it was more likely that my consistent message was heard and re-heard by hundreds of people and created a ripple effect. That made my message dynamic.
As I wrote, I found community. A community of shared mission to truly Tikkun Olam. My message was, is, will always be, simple. I stole it from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama: “Don’t be a dick.” Okay, I changed the words a little.
I found ways, via the community of mission, to amplify the voice. I joined a Dadblogger FB group, 1,200 guys strong. I wrote for the Good Men Project. I became a director for Dads Roundtable (now shuttered). I’m a Board member for Fathering Together. We have several groups under our umbrella: Dads with Daughters, Dads with Sons, and Dads for Gender Equity. I think there are around 200,000 Dads involved in our groups. That is one helluva shared community of mission.
Then there’s the bigger umbrella communities, the ones you are part of because of who you are. I’m a female, Asian-American, and citizen of the United States, and those things aren’t changing anytime soon. These are three communities that I get associated with, whether or not I choose to be associated with them. What is being communicated to me, is that I am a problem and that I don’t belong. Coronavirus-fueled Asian hate crimes are telling me I’m not safe here or that I should “go back where I came from”—again, my parents and I were both born here. The even more recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is telling me that I don’t matter and am valued less as a person in this society by taking away my ability to control my own body, and choices, and future. The messaging is clear… I’m less, I’m unwelcome, be smaller.
I grew up with my dad often using the phrase “it is what it is,” in a very “now what,” forward thinking sort of way – which is also something that I’m lucky enough to have ingrained in me. I believe in betterment, and we can’t change what happened, so what are we going to do now? Start individually. Interpersonally. Care about each other. Show up. Speak up. Fight for the right thing. I have just as much right to exist, make my own choices, and be as happy and weird as the next person. Don’t you think?
Here’s the last thing: I don’t write that much about typical fatherhood stuff anymore. I write about my relationship with my (now-deceased) dad. I write about my relationship with my (now 29 year old) son. I write about aging and death and dying and cancer and homelessness and marriage and LGBTQ+ allyship and anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and racism and war and food and bicycle racing and fitness. Here’s the bit that intrigues me: They all bleed into each other. The commonality—don’t be a dick. The circulatory system that carries the blood? It’s my community of mission.
You know I live to work-out. 6 days a week you’ll find me playing a sport, throwing around some heavy stuff, I love to play at fitness. A few months back, I had a dream that I died at 94, in the weight room, from an aortic dissection, whilst I was deadlifting (ironically hilarious, isn’t it?). The way I look at it, I’m 64 in July. That gives me 30 years to build this community of mission, to make changes that matter, to truly tikkun olam, sekai o iyasu, ashfi alealam, soigner le monde. (Of course, I googled those last three. Sheesh.)
Then it hit me: When I’m 94, Lauren, my friend, you’ll be about the same age as I am now. It’ll make me smile on that last deadlift pull to know that the world is in such damned capable hands as yours.
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