“Don’t underestimate me. I know more than I say, think more than I speak, and notice more than you realize” – Dannika D. (Goodreads, 2017).
“There’s so much more than meets the eye. Don’t define your world in black and white…” #awareness (2017).
When was the last time that you were in a situation where you were self-conscious about the thing that made you different from everyone else? Well, I had forgotten a few things until last week when I was on a flight and seated between two men occupied with their smart phones. The one on my left was engrossed in a movie with earphones plugged in. No need to hang a “Don’t disturb” sign on his chair. But, the other had been joking periodically with his friend across the aisle and seemed more open to conversation. After we settled into flight, the brightly lit colours and the patterns moving across the screen of his phone caught my eye. I was curious. My first thought was that a little girl would be captivated by all the bright colours and the quickly moving patterns across the screen. Every time he tapped the screen, the little ball would start racing up the screen until it hit an obstacle and exploded. I was strangely mesmerized. So, I asked a question. Not about the game. Not about the flight. Not about where he was heading with his friends. But, I asked a question about the thoughts that had caused me to become enraptured by his world.
“Do you have a sister?” I asked.
“Oh, yeh. I have a little sister. She’s four,” he responded, with a smile in his voice as if remembering her with fondness.
“I was just thinking about how a little girl would enjoy playing that with all the bright colours.”
He agreed with me, acknowledging that his little sister plays Color Switch all the time. Soon enough a surprising offer came, “Would you like to try it?” he asked.
I hesitated a moment because video games are not my forte, but I said, “Yes,” while reaching for the phone.
That “Yes” changed my world. No longer was I an outsider observing his world, but I had just been invited in because I asked the right question. I had to ask several more questions, even request a demonstration so that I could even begin to play the game. However, the world changed for both of us on that flight. We may look different on the outside, come from different countries and cultures, but we discovered more in common than we would have anticipated.
Like the DNA in the written code for Color Switch that requires an understanding of a variety of skills like graphic arts, architecture, sports (football), and physics, we have a human DNA that has nothing to do with appearances. Our differences on the surface were obvious. He is an American, Caucasian male, whereas I am a Jamaican female of mixed African, Hispanic, and European descent. However, as we shared around a game, we discovered that we each had a sport that we participated in. For him, wrestling. For me, swimming. We discovered the roles that our parents and our education had played in our selection of sporting activities. We also discovered that no matter how much our parents established our foundation for life, eventually we found our own way through the friends that we make and the professions that we choose.
What is perhaps even more interesting about this encounter is that we never exchanged names. It did not seem necessary. But, as we prepared to disembark at our destination, our eyes said it all. We acknowledged each other with respect. You could feel it. You could almost touch it. It had been good getting to know each other for that time on the flight. We understood that there are a lot more important things that we share than the things that sometimes drives us apart. I felt welcome in his country. I felt comfortable asking for his help to get my carry-on from the overhead bin. I had been prepared to be open to his people as I walked to the baggage claim area. It was
Oscar Wilde (2012) said, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intentions.” It is true. That simple act of kindness set the stage for how I approach my trip. I’ve been to a number of places since arriving, and people of all ethnicities have been present. With much to accomplish in so little time, it would be easy to hurry along as if they were not there. But, it does not take long to simply acknowledge their presence, query, or observation, and let the experience unfold. After all, you never know what you may discover if your remember that, “There’s more than meets the eye. That’s why you’ve been given a heart” (Anonymous). So, when you feel unsure in the presence of a stranger, think of a question to ask. The answer may change your life forever.
So, what if we approached every new encounter as more than meets the eye? What if we think about a question to ask that will reveal similarity/commonality between us rather than division? Could our exchanges be the starting point for rebuilding our families and our communities?