I shared my Christmas dinner and most of the day with a fascinating person. Demographics and logic would say our paths would never cross.She is a 94-year-old black woman, widowed for the last few years, now recovering from a broken hip. While her body is weakening, her mind is incredibly sharp; her humor intact; and her willingness and ability to share and teach strong. She split her time between urban lakefront Chicago and rural Mississippi and Louisiana before retiring on what seemed like a whim to sunny Florida. I never got the full picture of her education and career path, but it is clear she ascended to some of the highest heights of the cosmetic and publishing world, serving in some large and prestigious companies. She started her career in the midst of The Depression; she ended it in the midst of integration. She shared multiple stories where her skin color alone limited her opportunity, but she clearly overcame those shallow-thinkers around her to pursue what was important to her. She laughed openly at her current limitations (hearing aid, walker, memory, assisted living) and never once bragged on herself. But the message received by anyone who would listen (and hopefully my kids were listening to what she said with her life) was clearly one of confidence, class, and accomplishment.What can we learn from those not like us? Most of us will never know. We congregrate and collaborate by color, creed, character, and choice, limiting our exposure to those who are different in even the slightest way. When faced with the prospect of those who are different, we tolerate rather than embrace, attempt to teach rather than learn, and protect our comfort at all costs.I watch the effect of this in large corporations striving to teach everyone who passes their doors about “their culture and their way” rather than what they can learn from those who grace them with their presence. Bad presentations are bad usually because they mimic the only kind of presentations they’ve ever seen (which are bad). While break rooms are flush with pithy quotes like “The only constant is change,” few things ever change proactively for the better.And that’s a shame.
Take note of the world around you. Learn from others.