It was the big, burly, African American football player gushing on and on about caring for his Yorkie post surgery for a hurt paw that really opened my mom’s eyes. “I figured he wouldn’t be interested,” said my mom, about signing her petition to end puppy mills in Missouri, “but I needed the signatures.”
Not only did she get his signature, but everyone else at the party, my mom shared. “When I walked in, only me and your father, and maybe one or two other people were white. Everyone else was black, Asian, Hispanic…” my mom said of the recent gathering at her former Teachers Aide’s graduation party in St. Louis.
For my mom, it was the passion for the animals that had her determined to speak with everyone at the party. But at the end of the day it was my mom, who at 74, having grown up and lived in a predominantly white neighborhood her whole life, who had a transformational experience. She was so excited to share that with me. “I can’t believe I wouldn’t have met all these amazing people or had such great conversations,” she said, if she had pre-judged outcomes based on skin color or ethnic origin.
I appreciated her sharing it, and realized there are great applications to intercultural communications, whether you are a practitioner or just practicing it in your own life:
1. It is possible to have influence up and down the “food chain.”
I talk a lot about Intercultural Parenting and raising culturally sensitive kids. How wonderful to know that my parents have been listening as well. My mom enjoyed the experience of the party, but also was very excited to share it with me.
2. You can teach an old dog new tricks.
My mom would kill me if she thought in any way I was calling her an ‘old dog,’ but the point is that we can learn new things every day. Every new experience offers a new perspective.
Before the end of the weekend my dad also was proud to share his story of the woman he connected with at the doctor’s office in Chicago. He, a nearly 80 year old white guy, she a young African American nurse. Turns out that a couple of generations apart they had grown up around the corner from each other, attended the same elementary school, and he’s going to check upon his return to to St. Louis, but she may even be related to one of his business colleagues.
Which brings me to the third lesson:
3. You can’t change others, but by changing yourself you automatically change your influence with others.
“Do what I say, not what I do” might be something we try to use on our children to get complicity, but our actions speak louder than words. And sometimes it may feel we are repeating the same things over and over, but it’s nice to see that our own consistent vocalizaiont of ideas supported by action may be rubbing off.
Leading by example. Who have you influenced lately?