My son is black. Now I guess that’s not really a significant statement unless I also mention that I am white. When my husband and I first adopted our now five year old, we set out to fill our home with books, toys, and videos with black characters that our little boy could identify with. What we soon realized was that this took a lot of extra thought, because our natural inclination was to reach for the ones that looked most like us. The deeper we got into it, the more we realized that it wasn’t just childish toys, but our very lives that reflected that tendency. We began to realize that despite saying that we valued diversity, we had built our world mostly around people who looked and lived just like us.
Since that time, I am happy to say we’ve come a long way. We have formed deep and meaningful relationships with people of different ethnicities, ages, religious or political beliefs, and socioeconomic class. The reason that this is a value for us is not merely because it gives our children a fuller understanding of the world (though that is certainly important), but because it greatly enriches our lives. Through friendship with those who are different than me, I have been exposed to beautiful aspects of other cultures and have become more open-minded and prone to assume the best about people.
But there are areas of growth that have not come quite as easily, too. I have had challenging conversations about both personal and world issues that have forced me to consider another viewpoint. I have been frustrated with friends when they did not handle a situation in a way that was culturally acceptable to me. Sometimes it seems easier to write a Facebook rant about an issue than actually sit down with another person and discuss it. I am no exception.
Having friends who are not exactly like me often requires that I have something of a steel spine on the major issues. It’s important that I am confident about what my own convictions are, especially regarding morality or my views on marriage and family life. care for self or others. For example, I am thriving in a happy marriage but like all marriages, it takes work and sometimes we argue. If I spoke to a friend about one such argument and she suggested that I leave my husband, I would know immediately that I don’t morally agree with her viewpoint. (And then it might be a good time to confide in a different friend whose morals are more in line with my own.) However if the same friend expressed support for a presidential candidate whom I despised, it would be a great opportunity to enter into a healthy dialogue together about the needs of our country.
I know that I still have a long way to go, and I definitely see a need for more diversity in my friendships as I have just moved to a new town and left behind old friends. But now that it is a real value in my life, I know that I will always be looking for it.
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