I teach a weekly writing class for about eight students. I keep it small because it’s in my home and I want time to give attention to each person, listening to their pieces that they write and read in class and making encouraging comments. The same people come back week after week, and we are diverse: African Americans, gay and straight men, and single women, ranging from ages 29 to 82. Initially, I wondered if we would all get along and if we could forge a bond since we were all so different. We came from different generations, we had different family environments, we came from different parts of the country, and our lines of work were varied. How will they ever understand each other? I wondered before the first class. Will they connect and be instrumental in helping each other learn and grow? Or will they feel disconcerted and unsafe? Will they embrace the diversity or feel stunted by it?
I needn’t have been concerned. From my very first class some time ago, the differences in my students have made for stimulating, creative interactions. We write about everything and anything. Nothing is off limits. We have learned things we would otherwise have never known if we had stayed in our safe little environment. Or things we have forgotten. In fact, it gets so interesting, no one wants to leave even though the class ends at 9:30 or 10 PM.
As my classes continue and a few people come and go, the diversity remains. Due to a welcoming and safe atmosphere, my students have opened up and nothing is too intimate or tragic, too revealing or painful. We all listen well, we encourage each other, we make supportive comments and most of all, we learn about other generations, races, upbringings, opinions, family dynamics and many other things.
I like to think of my class as a role model in a culture and society where diversity is not celebrated. Embracing people of different colors, races, genders and walks of life takes acceptance, caring, and acknowledging that we are all different and yet all the same. We are all human, having a human experience, we feel the same pain and joy, and we are searching for love, connection, and understanding. We are tender, compassionate, brave, cowardly, kind and mean. No matter how we feel, we are searching for ways to come together with people who look and act differently than we do. Wouldn’t it be a bore if everyone was the same? Wouldn’t life be stale if we all thought and acted in identical ways? I’m happy to say that in my class we have defied the status quo and celebrated who we are, as we are, and what we mean to each other. From baby boomers to millennials, from white, black, gay, straight and everything in between, accepting “others” is the only way to grow into compassionate, loving human beings.
Does this occur in your life? I’d like to hear about it.