I have a challenge for you this week as we commemorate Human Rights Day. Many are making the most of the two long weekends by taking leave – which means the possibility of meeting new people wherever you are going. For those of us who are not taking leave, it means a quieter three days in the office and opportunity to get to know some of our colleagues better.
What would happen if during the next few weeks we all made a concerted effort to either meet a new person or get to know someone better – not as a colleague but as a person. And no, this is not an attempt at exercising social skills. It’s much more.
Much riskier, for one. Here’s the deal:
Your target should not look like you. He or she should preferably not believe the same things you do, have the same cultural tastes you do, or share the same home language.
Nervous? Stopped reading? Intrigued? I have been thinking a lot about tragic events such as Sharpeville 1960 (and many others, because we seemingly are slow learners). And I use the word ‘tragic’ with some reserve because even that seems trite. So it was really bad, and we shrug, shake our heads, observe a dramatic silence for a few seconds and then continue the discussion. What are we missing that we continue to make the same mistakes? That we do not seem to realise the magnitude of such tragedy?
I work with groups of varying sizes, representing a number of companies. I know by now what to expect: people come for self-development or skills training, so normal office dynamics do not apply. In the beginning, they seem to circle around one another, especially in a diverse group, as if to test the safety and identify the risks.
Then as the day progresses and they have to work together or share information or listen to one another, the walls come down. By the end of the course, they might not be best friends but that ancient part of our lizard brain that says, ‘Caution, unfamiliar object ahead, be alert…’ has made way for understanding and more importantly, value.
If you have just cringed at the word ‘object’ – good. If you haven’t, you might want to look at it again. Understanding and appreciation of one another will only come when we value each other as human beings with hopes, dreams, a desire to be the best we can be. But I am not going to allow myself to get excited about another world-changer, if I don’t value you and the potential in you, as one.
The task ahead is simplistic and a tiny drop in the ocean of the work ahead to come to a place where a day like Human Rights Day is not necessary because we are all convinced that every human matters, and we are not threatened because we share the same goal. What I am proposing is to build bridges over the fears that keep us apart. We will soon learn that those fears are unfounded. It will take an equal partnership, not lecturing, not trying to prove a point.
Get to know someone over a meal. Talk about yourselves. Find out about one another’s aspirations. Find out what keeps you awake at night. Find out what it was like growing up. How did they meet their spouse/partner? If they could do one thing over, what would it be? What about a bucket list? And then make a date to meet again – perhaps even work together on a shared personal project; making a difference in the communities where you live and work and where your strengths as diverse people can complement each other and build our nation.
We have to do this. We cannot leave it to the politicians – it is our responsibility and our privilege. But first, we have to get involved.
Let me know if you’ve taken up the challenge, will you?