Ten Ways to Talk About the Things That Matter

If this title seems unnerving, don’t worry, no one can do all ten at once. We don’t have to change the whole world—the idea is to spread some kindness in our own little corner of the world, but first let me tell a story about why I choose to fight for the equality of all people.

In college, I worked at a Christian, international university as a food service cashier. My first week was fun. I met lots of people from different nations and it felt like I had entered a microcosm of heaven. Most of these people were  kind and obviously spirit-filled. The pastor from Ghana who worked in the dish room, the server from China, the cashier from Indonesia and multiple salad chefs from Singapore who decorated the food with all kinds of animals and flowers made out of vegetables and fruits. I loved all of them and I smiled all week long that first week.

Apparently, I smiled so much that a large, black American man began to call me smiley whenever he came through my line. Since I had only worked there a few days I didn’t yet know my customers by name and with over two thousand students streaming through the lunch lines, it was hard to memorize faces as they zipped by. Then a crazy thing happened. Another large, black American man came through my line who had stolen a sandwich.*  I saw him put it in his pocket, so I charged him without saying anything because that’s what my boss told me to do.

Things that Matter, cherilynclough.com

When the man demanded a receipt, I gave it to him, but when he read it, he became so angry that he yelled in my face and shoved me against the wall so hard that it made my phone receiver fall off of the hook. I was not only stunned, but terrified of having another encounter with him for the next week. So I did what many people–black and white, have done when they feel intimidated, I altered my behavior because of this encounter and began to treat all black American men as if they were this guy who shoved me.

The guy who had called me smiley, came through my line several times before he said, “What in the world happened to you?” When I looked up and saw the kindness in his face, I decided to own it. I told him I was sorry, but I had stopped looking tall black men in the eye because of one person who shoved me the week before. Then he gently reached over and patted my hand, while he leaned closer and whispered, “I know only too well sister what you are going through, as a black man, I have learned to bounce back from the rude and mean people in this world otherwise I would miss the kind people.”

He changed my perspective that day. Through this experience, I caught a glimpse of how it feels to be mistreated by someone because of what you look like and the fear that triggers us to react, because we are only human and no one wants to relive any form of abuse. But as long as I assumed all big black men were like the one who shoved me, I was continuing a cycle that had been started long ago and kept bouncing back and forth between the races. It was time to stop it.

For three years this smiling man came through my line and shared what was going on in his life and we became casual friends. The truth is I never saw that other guy again, I heard he was just visiting to see if he wanted to come to the school, but he never enrolled. I’ve never forgotten this incident and I hope I never do.

Right now we see lots of people sharing memes on social media. And memes are okay, I do it myself, but the things is memes are sort of like putting an opinion out there. Most people will at most acknowledge our opinions, but opinions rarely change lives. The real question is what can we do with our real lives to make a difference? I bet some of you are like me and wish you knew what you can do to make the world a little kinder. Many of us want to start these conversations where we talk about the things that matter, so I made a little # list of ten ways to get started this weekend.

1. Listen to the story of someone who loves, lives or looks different from you. I mean really listen with empathy and understanding. Get into their head and feel their pain as you imagine how you would feel if what happened to them, had happened to you.

2. Stop anyone who in your presence even makes a joke about other people for their gender, race, religious beliefs, etc.

3. Write to your congressman and thank them for standing against racism and sexism. Or in the case of them not standing up, tell them what you wish they would do. Remember they work for the people and your voice matters.

4. Pray for those who are often marginalized and ask to be an extension of God’s heart showing them love in your neighborhood and community.

5. Share what’s on your heart with your friends whether they voted the same way you did or not. Let them know you respect them, but you are appalled at the current climate which has allowed white supremacists to march boldly in the streets without hiding behind masks. Ask your friends what they think and don’t act superior even if you disagree with them.

6. Share any concerns with your clergy if you see any form of racism or other lack of equality in your church. Ask for their help in educating your community.

7. Bake some cookies and share them with love. Use them to thank someone who you know is living out an example of loving all people. Or take your cookies across town and invite people in the park to enjoy the cookies while you trade stories.

8. Write a letter to someone that you may have harmed in the past with a joke about their gender or race and give them a heartfelt apology.

9. Ask God to open your eyes to the unfairness of how others are being treated and ask for the inspiration to make a difference.

10. Plan a casual event where your neighbors can come together and discuss their concerns. Listen to their stories and ideas of how to improve all types of relationships within your community. What will it take to make your neighborhood a safer place for all people?

In spite of everything
I still believe that people are really good at heart.
I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation
consisting of confusion, misery, and death.
I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness,
I hear the ever approaching thunder,
which will destroy us too,
I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet,
if I look up into the heavens,
I think that it will all come right,
that this cruelty too will end,
and that peace and tranquility will return again.
-Anne Frank

Each of us makes a contribution to the world we live in–the question is what are we contributing? Like Anne Frank, we can see two worlds, but we don’t have to settle for the darkness, we have an opportunity today–this weekend, to contribute to the light. So go out and shine and some of that light might be reflected back at you.

#This list is by no means finished, please feel free to add your own stories or suggestions in the comments.

*BTW White kids stole sandwiches too–this was sadly a more common occurrence than we Christians would like to admit and most justified it by saying the food prices were too high.

3 Replies to “Ten Ways to Talk About the Things That Matter”

  1. Beautiful Cherylin. It’s so easy to want to make blanket judgements and shut out the world. Jesus taught us emotional intelligence and this is a modern day parable.

    Liked by 1 person

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