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The cool kids - Martha Carr

It's been pointed out to me more than once that I'm very good at getting to know people. Not just meeting them, but actually creating a bond and keeping it going. All sorts of people from all kinds of backgrounds and ideologies are in my large circle of friends.

At my annual birthday potluck coming up on Labor Day weekend, I will once again invite everyone, and it's always fun to see the diverse group getting to share stories and a meal with people they don't normally get to know.

However, there are also plenty of people who just don't get me, and are polite but their body language tells the story. They'd rather not take it any further, and they will have other plans. That's OK, not everyone was meant to like us or even want to be around us.

But, there are times as a grownup when we have to negotiate and make important decisions with the very people who don't like us, don't agree with us and can't understand us at all. Sometimes, we're the ones sitting there wondering if the person on the other side of the table has ever turned their brain on for anything useful.

Fortunately, we can generally put aside our differences and listen for the places where we can compromise and work together. It teaches all of us a little about faith and humility, because we choose to take the next steps together, rather than apart, even though we don't see how it'll work out, especially since we don't agree.

Truth is, we all want to be liked by large groups of people. Some of us take it a little more seriously than others, but we are all hardwired to want to travel in packs of people who think we're pretty cool.

The whole thing starts at our first venture out onto the playground when we find out it's more fun to dig around in the sand with someone than to go it alone.

A little sorting comes with the deal as we figure out what we like to do and what we don't. The tree climbers naturally gravitate toward each other and, spontaneously, jump from the second tier of branches, while the kids who like to build a sand castle come up with a few rules on the right and wrong way to pack sand and where everything ought to go.

That's the flip side of noticing our differences. We can start to want to tell others what they can do, when they can do it, and now we'd like to see it done. Or we act like we didn't hear anything and do what we want, crushing a few sand castles along the way. A position of all or nothing starts to form and take root, and we create spaces that become a little harder to cross with each year that passes.

Cliques form and we huddle in our own groups wondering why those other people can't see our side of things, which is far more rational and has sound reasoning behind it, don't you know.

However, if we can lead with our faith and become willing to step outside of where we're comfortable, we may find there are even bigger rewards. So many of the lessons I've learned are contrary to what I expected. I stopped plastering others with labels and instead, listened for a change and found out that my judgment toward myself receded as well.

I asked for outside opinions and found out there were even more options than I realized. Both sides gained something, but we would have never known if we'd insisted on talking at each other instead of listening for longer than a minute. My world opened up and became a more inviting place, not fear-filled, and I learned to take more chances, not fewer. It all starts with a faith that we all have something to offer and we can learn from everyone else, not just those we have already decided are right and therefore the only ones worthy of our time or our attention. Then, we begin to live up to the ideal of a democracy working together in a republic. More adventures to follow.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. Her latest book is the memoir, "A Place to Call Home." www.MarthaRandolphCarr.com. E-mail Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.