I've had the privledge of working with a lot of people in politics.
One of my favourites is a fella named Paulo Senra, who I had the pleasure of running into tonight at an event. If you read his post (shamelessly reposted by me) below, you'll see why I think he's awesome.
People are constantly filling in gaps with their own perspective, creating non-existant layers of difference between us.
Scratch the surface a bit, though, you'll find that what we have in common is the ocean; what seperates us is merely a more easily perceived drop.
To fill in your gaps of perception with reality, not confabulation, start by asking and then listening. Challenging, perhaps, but always more rewarding.
After five amazing days in New York City, I found myself sitting and reflecting in seat 6D on my Porter flight back home to Toronto. I was sad to be leaving, tired and a little hung over, but mostly a bit anxious as I usually am whenever boarding a plane.
Prior to take off, the woman next to me turned and gently told me: “Just to let you know, I’m not a very good flyer. I get nervous on take offs and landings.” I smiled and responded with: “That’s perfect because I love take offs and landings; the mid-air turbulence is what scares the shit out of me.”
We exchanged smiles and after a few initially awkward and silent moments, we struck up a conversation.
It started with the expected and the usual “Where you from/What do you do?” inquiries, but it quickly grew into something a lot more substantial and controversial.
I blame it on this: “You seem like a nice guy, do you have a girlfriend?”
I thought about lying for a split second, but instead, I respectfully responded with: “No, but that’s because I’m gay.”
For the majority of the flight, I found myself answering questions about my coming out story to my family, my relationship with my parents, my plans to raise children, the state of marriage equality in America and how proud I was to be Canadian.
But it was another topic that really shifted the conversation – religion.
As I was discussing how disappointed and disgusted I was with the Pope’s (and the Catholic Church’s) views on women, homosexuality and marriage, my new friend advised me that she was an Orthodox Jew.
Suddenly, I was the one asking questions.
For the remainder of the flight I got to know a wonderful 52-year woman; born in India; raised in Canada; now living and working just outside the New York City boundaries; married to another Canadian; has four children; still travels on her Canadian passport; thinks the gun culture in America is ridiculous; and, votes Republican because she doesn’t think President Obama likes Israel enough.
I listened, agreed and disagreed, and continued to ask questions.
I learned that my new friend was about to visit her ailing mother, who was on life support in a Toronto hospital. She also admitted to me that she struggles each and every day reconciling her own personal views and the religious beliefs she is told is the correct way forward.
My new friend described to me the wonderful Jewish traditions that her and her family observe during the holidays and Sabbath, but she also explained how at times, she is uncomfortable with the views of her sect of Judaism, and in her opinion, how women are treated as second-class citizens. At one point she exhaled deeply and uttered “It’s a constant challenge, I feel stuck some days.”
I reminded her it wasn’t just Judaism and briefly mentioned examples of how oppressive Islam and Christianity can be towards women (and gays).
The conversation then navigated itself to the topic of the holocaust, where my new friend was surprised to find out that homosexuals, in addition to the millions of Jews, were also camped and exterminated. (Oddly enough, her husband now works for IBM, the same company whose devices were used to identity and classify individuals using the infamous concentration camp punch cards.)
And suddenly, we were wheels down in Toronto. We gathered our belongings and exchanged a few looks. It was as if we had a renewed understanding of what shared oppression and struggle felt and looked like. Considering the intensity of our conversation, the encounter ended in a rather unremarkable manner.
New Friend: “You know, you were the first gay person I’ve ever spoken to. Thank you for that.”
Me: “Really? Well, it was great meeting you. You’ve made me completely re-think how I view and judge Orthodox Jews.”
New Friend: “Well, we are not all the same; some of us struggle and continue to ask questions.”
Me: “Same with us.”
We smiled at each other. She walked on and waved. I leaned back against the cold tunnel walls and waited for my gate-checked luggage.