It’s Tuesday which means it’s tip day over at Lip!
Onto tip number 2 for a better world. Wisdom learned on a photography shoot with Meaghan that regular readers of Where is Sarah? might recognise.
“Friendship is the most powerful “diversity strategy” there is. There is nothing more important than creating meaningful and organic relationships with people across the various borders that have historically divided us. It is through these real relationships—whole, vulnerable, reciprocal—that we really learn about our own blind spots and the beauty of others’ perspectives.”
– Courtney E. Martin, author and contributor to Feminsiting.com.
Last weekend, for the first time since I was ten, I visited a dairy farm. My memories of dairy farms were not fond. There was mud and cow dung everywhere. The smell was truly awful. As a young girl growing up in the country and dreaming of my future, I would plead with whoever was in charge of the Universe, ‘when I grow up please don’t make me marry a dairy farmer’.
I treated my latest visit to the dairy farm like an anthropological exercise. I imagined that I would be reminded of life on the land and meet salt of the earth people. I assumed I wouldn’t have much in common with these people, and I would almost certainly disagree with their politics, but we would find a common humanity and build a bridge between city and country folk.
So I went to the dairy farm, and guess what? I was reminded of life on the land and I met salt of the earth people. We didn’t have a lot in common, I disagreed with their politics (imagine awkward conversations about the carbon price), but we found a common humanity and built a bridge between city and country folk. And despite 45 years between us, the dairy farmers and I shared a common friend from my hometown.
On the drive home I pondered how it had come to this. How did someone like me who grew up near dairy farms, had sleepovers on dairy farms, sat every day in class with kids from dairy farms become a self-appointed Margaret Mead going to discover a new world? How did I become so out of touch?
This “anthropological exercise” was so easy. I turned up, had a cup of tea and a piece of cake, and learnt a bit more about the dairy farmers’ lives. These aren’t people from distant lands – they vote in the same State and Federal elections as me; they rely on the same hospital, education, and criminal justice systems as me.
We should know how other people in our community live: dairy farmers in the country, shop owners up the road, lawyers in the suburbs, office workers in the city.
But many of us don’t. There is a soft social segregation happening in our cities and towns. We spend most of our time with people like ourselves; people who have similar life aspirations, similar political persuasions, similar income brackets.
I suspect that we humans can only cope with so much contrast and conflict in our daily lives, which is why we thrive on routine and find friends and partners with common values. We avoid meeting our neighbours in case we discover that they are racist or something else too hard to contemplate.
We travel the world because it opens our eyes to the ways other people live. We are richer for knowing the world “out there”. So let’s duplicate the glorious eye-opening benefits of travel by going to your cousin’s friend’s lingerie party or attending the local primary school fete.
So many of us work in jobs that are helped by knowledge of our community, but so often our knowledge is funnelled. We meet “stakeholders” in formal environments, or we extrapolate what we know about our family, friends and acquaintances. Our ability to do our jobs and be more open-minded people is enhanced by actively broadening our daily conversations to include a few unusual suspects. We should develop our own personal “diversity strategies”.
Last week, my friend told me about student-run think tank she was volunteering for. They were preparing a position paper on agricultural policy but hadn’t talked to any farmers. When my friend asked why, her colleague said (paraphrased), ‘We don’t need to ask farmers because they won’t know anything about policy-making’.
Go out and meet someone you wouldn’t ordinarily cross paths with in daily life. Do it to understand your community better. Do it to be better at your work. Do it do make new friends. Do it so you don’t ever try to write agricultural policy without talking to a farmer.