Thursday, October 28, 2021

Focusing on Commonalities Instead of Differences

One part of my freelance work includes writing articles for a denominational newspaper. I won't go into my feelings about organized religion in this post, but you need to know that they are mixed. There are times I've had to write about issues that I didn't feel as passionate about as others, but for those, I would make them into a challenge to write a good article about something I don't necessarily believe in.

Yesterday I interviewed a man who is doing something amazing involving racial reconciliation. You might wonder why I'm bringing this up on a blog dedicated to mental health and invisible illness awareness. I'm doing so because there are many similarities to the fight for racial inclusion that we have for the inclusion of those with the issues we face.

Roy started an organization called "Pledge Group" in 2014, which later organized an annual event called "Shrink the Divide." Though it didn't come up specifically in our conversation, 2014 was an epic year regarding racial tension with the "Black Lives Matter" slogan originating in July 2013. He did express to me that his pain over what was going on helped birth this new organization.

I don't yet have his permission, but if it's okay with him, I'm going to include the Pledge in this post. For now, you can read it if you go to https://www.shrinkthedivide.com/who-we-are and scroll to the bottom of the page. 

The main tenet of the Pledge Group is to encourage open communication between races by getting together and not only talking about what's going on in the world but mostly listening to each other. This group does have one main commonality that helps its success, Christianity, which can't be applied to a random group of individuals. But I think the main point is the same.

It's so easy to pay more attention to differences than to realize that we are all much more the same than different. I've definitely been guilty of that in my life and in this blog. Feeling left out of activities, groups, and conversations helps create that "us vs them" philosophy that fuels violence like with race riots on one end and a defeatist attitude on the other.

Races looking different are obviously more, well, um, obvious. The whole idea of an invisible illness being invisible is because you can't see it on the outside. It's only when you look deeper into a person's life that you can tell it's an issue that affects everyday life. However, just because you don't see on the outside how a person is different at first, doesn't make ongoing treatment of the person the same as others.

Both issues have an extensive history of injustice and discrimination. Until recently, children with special needs were kept out of mainstream education, more because they were different than because their needs were different. Adults missed out on job opportunities due to a history of having mental health issues or having to take more sick days than is typical. Many haven't been able to access buildings that only had stairs or seating that wouldn't work for everyone. 

Both issues also have legislation that has changed the official way we deal with them. No longer (at least legally) are there separate water fountains, seating areas, or entry and exit doors due to race. No longer (at least legally) are there separate schools for children with handicaps unless it's in the best interest of the child to be in a different school. No longer (at least legally) do buildings not have ramps and elevators.

But problems still abound for each group. Just because the law says you have to provide equal treatment as much as possible, it often doesn't happen in everyday life. There are still areas in the country an African-American can't spend the night because of fear for his life. Deaf can only go to movies at certain times of the month because that's the only time it's close-captioned - and only one movie out of 10 new releases might be. Students with mental health issues are suspended when they have a breakdown instead of being helped. 

We still have a long way to go. But just like in the Pledge Group, communication is key. The more awareness we raise on how we feel related to our differences, hopefully, the more we can find in common.

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