By Sean Edwards
I love driving into Provo and seeing “Welcome Home” upon entering city limits. I moved to Provo in 2006 to attend college at BYU. Immediately, Provo became my home. I remember preparing for graduation and thinking, “Where do I want to move?” With my career as an educator, I could literally go anywhere. But, everywhere I wanted to be and build my life was right here in Provo. Provo is home.
We have three high schools in Provo including Provo, Timpview, and Independence. I have been so fortunate to have the opportunity to work as a teacher and administrator in Provo City School District. In 2017, I learned the true meaning of “Welcome Home”.
Laura (pseudonym), a 16-year-old junior (11th grade), approached me one day and expressed that our school needed to be more intentional about how we approach new students at the school. She shared ideas about how she wanted to see each new student receive a personal welcome upon enrolling at the school. Although Laura was involved in multiple athletic programs, Student Government, advanced courses, and more, she kindly offered to lead this inclusivity initiative. Laura designed an incredible system where each week, she would get a list of all new students. Then, she scheduled a time to meet with the student. She introduced herself to the new student as their friend and showed them around the school. She let the student know important tips for “how to do school” such as following the school’s Instagram and provided a list of different clubs and activities to get involved in. She also put together a “welcome bag” for students which included a drawstring bag, school supplies, a school shirt, important documents (maps, contact information, etc.), and other school swag (lanyard, flashlight keychain, etc.). Every new student I talked to was so appreciative of the warm welcome Laura provided them.
Laura continued this through her senior (12th grade) year and enlisted more people to help her, forming a New Student Welcome Committee. Now, our new student welcome program has transformed to be a larger part of our school-wide outreach efforts. This all happened because one person had the vision to improve kindness within our school’s culture.
I am so grateful to Laura for teaching me what “welcome home” truly means. “Welcome home” is more than just a physical sign. “Welcome home” is embodied by kind individuals that are intentional and deliberate about letting you know that you belong here, you have a place with us, your contribution is needed, and because of your differences, we need you.
As you seek to apply a “welcome home” mindset, consider the following reflective questions:
1. Who are the individuals or groups that I can show kindness and be welcoming towards?
2. Who in my community needs to feel welcomed the most?
3. What does being welcoming look like in authentic and genuine ways?
4. How will I remind myself to be welcoming?
5. What are my motives for being kind and welcoming?
6. Who else can I invite to have a “welcome home” perspective? How can I partner with others?
Sean Edwards is currently in his fourth year as an Assistant Principal at Timpview High School. Prior to his administrative assignment, he was an instructional coach and special education teacher. He is also in his second year in a doctorate program at The University of Utah. Sean enjoys being around friends and family (cousin game nights!), traveling, spending time with his husband, and eating a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream every night. :)
By Becca Kearle
In the past week, I have done two different national media interviews because I voted differently than my parents in the past election. In the time leading up to and immediately after the elections we were in constant conversation about our concerns, our hopes, and which way we were leaning in the presidential race. The journalists talking to us were a combination of amused, intrigued, and baffled by this close relationship that allowed for dialogue and respect in the face of political differences. Somehow, in our culture and in our politics, the idea of difference has been reduced to divisiveness rather than variety. We attach differences or try to avoid them and often make assumptions about others based on what we perceive as differences.
In my work, I engage communities across the country in exploring meaningful conversations across differences. One of the most powerful ways to combat confirmation bias and increase understanding and trust is simply to listen and talk to each other and 2020 has given us a lot of material to work with!
What meaningful conversation do you wish you could have right now? Who would you want to have it with?
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the train-wreck scenario of talking politics with relatives over the holidays. No matter what your holiday gatherings look like (in person or online), there are things you can do to have better conversations. These are some of the guideposts I use at work as well as in my personal life: (1) Be curious and listen to understand, (2) Show respect and suspend judgment, (3) Note any common ground as well as any differences, and (4) Be authentic and welcome that from others. With those elements in place you can lead out and talk about how this year has been for you and ask others what their experiences have been. You can have a “conversation potluck” and invite guests to bring a question they want to discuss. The only rules are that it can’t be a yes/no question or one that will get you focused on opinions rather than experiences (you don’t want to get caught up in fact checking).
The relationship I have with my parents is based in mutual respect and trust. It allows us to disagree, because I know who they are at their core. It allows us to ask each other real questions without any of us feeling threatened or attacked. We don’t necessarily change our minds often, but we do allow our positions and ideas to become more complex. One of the experiences we shared with the reporters was the shift we had around immigration. I grew up in Maine where I didn’t really think about immigration at all. My mom grew up in southern California where immigration was everywhere. It wasn’t until my sister married her undocumented husband that I was able to tether a human life to the ideas and policies around immigration. I listened to his story about crossing the border with a coyote as a minor and it challenged my assumptions around who comes to this country and why. (I also recognize that his is one of many stories that illustrate many different aspects of immigration.) Through all my many conversations, I have realized that fear thrives in a one-dimensional, simplified version of life. When we open ourselves to understanding difference and connecting with each other through conversation, we can enjoy humanity in all its complicated vivacity. This is the essence of kindness to me-- to sit with someone else, to really see and hear them.
This year I am giving thanks for the beautiful diversity of our experiences. I believe in the power of communities. I believe that our shared humanity is stronger than our religious, political, or ideological differences. I also believe and have witnessed how our community can be strengthened when we see and hear each other.
** I have developed free PDF “conversation menus” that I invite you to use. There’s also a Friends and Family Conversation Tip Sheet PDF you may find helpful.
Becca Kearl is involved in numerous local non-profit endeavors and is a founding member of the Utah Dialogue Practice Network. As a Managing Partner at Living Room Conversations, she believes in the power of dialogue around difficult topics to strengthen communities locally and nationally. She is also fully engaged in the non-profit effort of raising 5 kids.
by Fred Axelgard
When I was a little boy, about age 4, we lived in Taiwan. I attended a Chinese-language pre-school, and one of my favorite things to do was to help raise the Taiwanese flag as the school day began. I understood very little of the language, and really had no idea what the flag-raising meant. But the memory of it is important to me. I can look back and see myself as a small child surrounded by other small children who were different from me, at a very happy time in my life.
A few years later, my family traveled to Jerusalem. This was the early 1960’s, and Jerusalem was a divided city. I remember standing on the street in front of our hotel in Arab East Jerusalem, and meeting a young Palestinian boy. He was about my height, with dark hair and dark eyes. Again, I did not speak his language and I never saw him again, but somehow that little boy has stayed with me. The thought that has stayed in my mind, alongside the memory of his face, is that whatever I would encounter in my life somehow had to take account of his life. I knew we would have very different lives, but that did not matter. Existence would not make sense to me unless it meant that his life was as important to God as mine.
One more experience. Many years later, I found myself in a bus going across the Sinai Peninsula. Around me were peace negotiators from Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and a dozen other countries. We had arranged to visit an installation that was set up to monitor the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in the hope that this would show these negotiators how Arab-Israeli peace could be achieved and maintained. I remember very well an Egyptian general saying very slowly how much he hoped that his children and grandchildren would grow up in a region at peace. The thought I have kept next to this memory is how deeply he felt this hope. He breathed it out from deep inside.
What do these experiences have to do with kindness in Provo? I have found, somewhat surprisingly, that Provo is a very international city. Many many people here have had their own experiences in other countries, among other cultures. These experiences have shaped them and, consequently, they have shaped the community that we have become and are still becoming. Difference acknowledged, difference accepted, difference appreciated, difference emulated: these dynamics are at the heart of who we are as a community. Think of them as never-ending processes, as predictable and refreshing as the breeze that blows down out of Provo Canyon every morning. We are changing every day, we are encountering differences every day, and we are being shaped by these differences – yes, every day.
So the thought I’d like to leave is that we have the ability to open up and be attuned to the differences we see in the people around us. These differences might be racial, ethnic, linguistic, socio-economic, political, or educational in nature. Let these differences and these people remind us of experiences from the past, and the many different pathways that have led to us becoming who we are. Perhaps like me, you’ll be reminded of promises that you made to yourself long ago, about the people you wanted to remember and the way you wanted to live your life. And then think about the place you would like Provo to become.
Fred Axelgard’s father was a global dairyman from Carbon County. Fred played Little League baseball in Iran, Greece, Turkey, Belgium, and Utah. After many years in the Washington DC area, he and Robyn moved to Utah County in 2013. They have five children and fifteen grandchildren.
By Meradith Christensen
Some of the best relationship advice I’ve ever received was when a friend reposted the following blurb:
“The same energy that creates the side of someone that you love, is frequently also responsible for the side that drives you crazy. You thus shouldn’t pine for an impossible scenario where you can retain that which you adore and excise the part you do not; you can’t pick up one end of the stick, without picking up the other! Once you recognize that someone’s ‘flaws’ are just a different manifestation of the same energy in them that you love, these faults become easier to accept.” - Brett and Kate McKay, How to Accept Your Partner’s Flaws, Art of Manliness blog
Suddenly, everything made so much sense to me. I absolutely love how principled my husband is-- he is such a loyal and honest person. But he views punctuality with the same fervor whether he’s attending a meeting with the Queen of England or a neighborhood barbecue and I myself don’t like to be part of the official greeting crew unless I’m formally invited to the assignment. I like to arrive *right on time*, not long beforehand-- which of course, is “late” in his book.
I totally love and admire how structured and focused he is -- it’s a part of what’s given him such incredible work ethic and has made him a productive human being, but when we were first married and vacationing, I wanted to lay around the pool all day. You can imagine how it really rustled my feathers to find that I’d married a madman who’d scheduled each day to the brim with outings to hike, repel and site see. (You’ll be relieved to know we’ve since figured out how to accomplish both activity and relaxation.)
He loves my natural empathy for others but sometimes in parenting, conflicts have arisen because he thinks I’m too much of a softy and prefers that I be more rigid with consequences. He loves and admires my convictions and my passion for standing up for what I believe in... unless of course, it’s over something he doesn’t feel the same about and thinks is a waste of time to get all worked up over. Then he (wrongfully!) calls my convictions ‘stubbornness’ instead.
We are in so many ways polar opposites. And we are no relationship experts by any means, but I’m realizing after fourteen years of marriage (I know--still baby ferns in this thing!) and five children that there’s a real beauty in walking this road of life with him at my side because his strengths -- the attributes that he possesses that are different from my own -- are helping to mold me into a better and more complete person. I know that my strengths are doing the same for him. And perhaps, more importantly, it is more of an understanding through experience that by putting both of our strengths to work together versus trying to make the other more like ourselves, we have the potential to create a real powerhouse.
Obviously, there are much weightier topics in marriage than punctuality or how to spend our time on family vacations, but my point is this: This principle applies to all relationships with our fellow human beings.
What if we could somehow extend this idea beyond our romantic relationships and close friendships? What if we could somehow extend this to all others? Are we slapping the label of “flaw” onto attributes we simply have a hard time relating to? Things that make another different from us? An approach to solving a problem that’s nowhere near the approach we would take? A way of thinking that feels foreign and unfamiliar and oftentimes threatening?
What if we could rewire our minds to look at differences, or what we might too easily label to be “flaws” in others, as exciting and fascinating? Instead of feeling threatened by differences -- which almost always reflects our own insecurities -- what if we could view them as an opportunity to learn and grow from another? What if we could recognize and more importantly fully embrace the idea that combining and celebrating our different strengths with others’ has potential to create a real “powerhouse” society? Do we allow ourselves to see the strength in diversity as a whole and individually and understand how it makes us better than we ever could have been on our own? How it helps us to become more complete and well-rounded humans?
In our modern world, we as humankind have never had such effortless access to so many differing viewpoints in history. Do we see this as a curse or an opportunity? Ask yourself:
When was the time I talked to or engaged online with someone I disagreed with on a given topic? What was my objective in that conversation? Was my intention to prove that I’m “right” or to assert my opinion? Was it to try to persuade them to see things my way?
Try the following little experiment: The next time you disagree with someone just pause. Don’t assert your opinion at all but simply ask questions in an effort to better understand the perspective. Why does this person see things the way they do? What are they hoping to see accomplished as a result of their beliefs? What principles are at the root of this person’s beliefs? What can you find that is admirable in these principles?
If you are willing, share your experience with this experiment. Were you able to appreciate a different perspective? How did you feel after the conversation?
Do we honestly feel it a coincidence that by divine design, no two snowflakes are the same? That each star of billions of stars in the sky is unique? How can we grow in appreciation for others' differences? As the American author Audre Lorde said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” It’s time to consciously rise above that which separates us and embrace and celebrate the power of our differences.
Meradith Christensen is a Provo resident for the past 15 years and is a wife and mother to four daughters and one son, ages 3-12. She graduated with a BA degree in Spanish and is a soon-to-be certified yoga instructor. Meradith loves to travel the world, loves meeting new people, and has a special flair for Latin America. She loves to sing, write, cook, tell stories, dance, impromptu Riverdance, and thinks her jokes are the funniest of all jokes.
By Jennifer Partridge
Four years ago, my freshman came home from school one September day and proclaimed that we needed to host an exchange student. What? This had never crossed our minds! The Exchange Student Coordinator had come into his Spanish class and shown a picture of a girl from Spain who was already here in Provo but still needed a host family. Mar joined our family a couple of weeks later and we had an amazing school year together. She learned about Utah’s love for ice cream and the beauty of our National Parks. We learned that in her region of Spain they speak Catalan more than Spanish and celebrate Christmas with Tio, a log that “poops” presents!
We enjoyed having Mar in our home so much that we have since hosted two other exchange students. One of the many things I love about welcoming students from other countries into our home is the opportunity we have had to learn from each of them. Each of our new “daughters” has come from different cultures, family situations, and with their own unique personalities and perspectives. Our family has learned firsthand that when you make the effort to get to know someone of a different background, your whole world expands. We have learned from them, and they from us. We have not always agreed, but we have found joy in learning new perspectives and focusing on the many things we can build upon.
When Mar returned to visit us last summer, I just had to ask her about her new tattoo. As you can see in this picture, it has two eyes, with a 6 in the middle. Or is it a 9? When Mar’s arm is down and you are standing behind her, it is a 9. When she bends her elbow to put her hand near her mouth and you are in front of her, it is a 6. She designed this tattoo to show that two people can look at the same thing and see it differently -- it all depends on your perspective. You say it’s a 9 and I say it’s a 6. Neither of us is incorrect. I love this message! Every individual has a unique perspective, made from their own particular life experiences. My perspective is not any more “right” than yours. When we stop trying to be right and start trying to understand other viewpoints, our lives are enhanced with more joy, fulfillment, and connection.
How can we learn better from one another? How can we recognize that our perspective is not the only one? Just like with our exchange students, it takes a willingness and desire to step outside of ourselves. Our students who had the best experience here were those who were the most open to trying new adventures, meeting new people, and learning all they could about this new environment. Instead of sitting in their bedroom, connecting only to the friends and family back home that they were comfortable with, they took a chance and made the effort to expand their horizons.
This same principle applies to each of us in our own communities. We are surrounded by such a beautiful variety of people. Sometimes that diversity is noticeable, with people from different cultural or religious backgrounds, for example. Other times, the variety is less obvious. We can approach our neighbors, literally and figuratively, with love in our hearts and with the desire to truly know and understand them. Everyone has a story to tell. As you sincerely listen, what you learn will add to your own story and enhance your perspective.
Jennifer Partridge is a wife and mom to 3 boys and 1 girl, ages 11-18. She also loves being the “American Mom” to three exchange student daughters, who she keeps in touch with regularly. Jennifer currently serves on the Provo School District Board of Education and helped bring the kindness initiative to our schools six years ago when she was serving as the district PTA president. She loves chocolate, Disneyland, date nights at all of the amazing Provo restaurants, working out, and traveling.
by Bryan G. Hopkins
"Don't make me pull this car over!" Many of us have said this or have heard it from a parent on the verge of a nervous breakdown while driving with squabbling children.
I remember wanting to stuff my ears with road maps back in the ancient days when I was a young father and we used paper maps. I disliked hearing my children shouting at each other like a murder of crows fighting over roadkill. (Yes, a group of crows is called a murder.) Their opinion was the only thing rising in their consciousness in those moments. There was little care for the comfort or opinions of the siblings sitting next to them. Each felt they were right and that nothing else mattered.
If this sounds familiar to any of you, maybe you, like me, have witnessed such squabbling, and not just in the family boat, (a term of mocking endearment bestowed on our Dodge van by our teens). You might also have noticed such conflict on social media, at home, at work—especially as we talk social issues, religion, politics, etc. Maybe . . . just maybe . . . I've been guilty of this, despite being a "mature" adult. Maybe you have too?
In my work, I especially strive to avoid bias. I'm a scientist. Part of the scientific method is to establish a hypothesis—a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. Frequently in our research, we find that our hypotheses are not correct or are only partially correct. This is more common than not.
My students are frequently disappointed in their research findings when this happens—as if somehow they have failed and all is lost in the pursuit of their degree. I remind them that this is why we're doing research. We are searching for truth, regardless of where it might lead us. I also warn them of the dangers of being biased and forming firm opinions before knowing the truth. This danger is real for all of us—scientists or not.
I'll relate a story of bias regarding a friend—I'll call him Clay Tiller to protect his true identity and because I thought that this reference to a type of soil and tillage is punny (I can just feel the eye rolls as I write this :)).
Clay owned a successful, large farm—built up out of the sagebrush by his ancestors. To say it came through "blood, sweat, and tears" is an understatement.
Clay had a friend who approached him with a new product that he said would "revolutionize" farming. Clay trusted this man, who believed strongly and sincerely in his product. The product seemed appealing because it promised that a small amount could replace much of his expensive fertilizer and pesticide inputs. Although he had some misgivings, he agreed to give it a try on half of one field as a test in place of the traditional products and practices he used on the other half and the rest of the farm.
At harvest, to his surprise, the portion of the field where the new product was used yielded ten sacks higher than the traditional side. (Those of us that did not grow up with smartphones and, instead, had gunny sack races will relate to a “sack” as a burlap bag that holds 100 lbs of potatoes or a leg from each of two people . . . young people may need to do an internet search for “gunny sack races” if you have no idea what I’m saying :)).
He was ecstatic! More gunnies of “taters” with less expense and work. He quickly abandoned his proven practices to use this miraculous tonic on the whole farm. In fact, Clay bought a distributorship of this product and began brewing and selling it to his family, friends, neighbors, and any other farmer who would listen.
The next season, to his dismay, things did not look quite as good. He lost money, especially on the half field that was now in its second year of having this product applied. However, he was so invested in his notions that he sought explanations of justification rather than having an open mind and listening to his wife, his crop consultant, and several others (including myself) urging a course correction or, at least, some caution. Conversations with him and others devolved into arguments. The more he argued, the more he became entrenched in his position. The next year was even worse, with massive nutrient deficiencies, plagues of pests, and poor yielding crops. By year five, he had lost the farm and every other physical and monetary asset.
What happened? I knew (and tried to explain to him early on) that he had not followed the proper procedures of the scientific method in his “experiment”. The reason the crop looked so good the first year was that the plants relied on a surplus of nutrients built up from previous over applications of fertilizer. Also, the pest pressure was low in that half-field trial the first year due to a combination of being surrounded by other fields where pests were controlled, as well the fact that pests come in cycles—with some years better than others. That first year happened to be a low pest pressure year.
Clay was tripped up by poor decisions and then deceived by his bias. He was set so firmly in his opinion because he drew conclusions too quickly and became entrenched in his ego so deeply that he lost his ability to have an open mind. He had put his good name on the line as he touted the benefits of this new breakthrough product that seemed to defy the laws of nature (such as, if you remove nutrients from the soil, you have to replenish them or you risk destroying the soil).
It's easy for us, with the near-perfect vision of hindsight, to see his folly. However, what about us? What is our bias? I certainly have to do battle and keep constantly aware of my own bias. This is true in science, but also in every other area of life, including products and services we purchase, social issues, politics, and so forth. And, the more we entrench ourselves through digital or verbal shouting matches the less likely we are to have an open mind.
In the history of mini-vans, has a screaming child ever successfully argued their position to an equally shrill sibling? It's easy for an adult to see their folly, but why do we act similarly on social media and in other interactions?
Too many of us are loudly advocating our position to the point that we cannot listen to our own good judgment trying to whisper truths to our minds and hearts. Are we so busy childishly screaming our perspective that we cannot hear the wisdom of others—even if we are entirely or partially correct? Are we part of a murder of crows cawing relentlessly? Possibly, we need to set aside our bias, listen a little more, and shout a little less.
Bryan Hopkins and his wife Carrie raised six children and are longtime residents of Provo. He is a Certified Professional Soil Scientist and a Plant and Wildlife Sciences Professor at Brigham Young University . His hobbies include gardening and traveling (without shouting children).
by George Handley
A lot of people feel strongly that a lot is at stake right now in our country. The problem is that there is a lot of disagreement about what, exactly, is at stake and what is to be done about it. Some may be convinced that this is no time for patience and kindness and may doubt, as the old adage has it, that love is really the answer.
Standing up, standing tall, and boldly holding firm in the face of opposition are all deemed required strengths in the great battles of life. But the fact is that most psychologists confirm what Jesus taught a long time ago, that conflict is exacerbated, if not created, by poorly aligned judgment: we are far more likely to overestimate the blinding mote in our enemies and underestimate the blinding beam in ourselves.
I don’t have an argument with standing up and standing tall. My suggestion is merely that we should never forget that great strength and effective action come from real humility and passionate love. Our love for what is good must be greater than our hatred for what is wrong. Our willingness to see our own flaws must be greater than our eagerness to identify those of others. Besides, it seems to me that maybe we grant battles over ideas a kind of primacy that they don’t deserve. I am not aware of any religion that purports that right thinking is more important than right behavior or that ideas matter more than character. That isn’t to say that right thinking or correct ideas are not worthy pursuits, nor does it mean that falsehoods should be accepted. But the moral quest, according to the world’s religions, is to bring our behavior and our very being into harmony with ideals. The greatest battles of life, in other words, are fought in the privacy of the individual human heart.
It is not hard to imagine that our current culture of hot-headed rants and blood vessel-bursting takedowns of the perceived moral idiots in our midst has been influenced by the anonymity and algorithms of social media, the ideological leanings of cable news, and the many poor examples we see in public. But in the end, the responsibility is ours. Behavior on social media is still human behavior. What we say about others who think differently than we do are still our words, formed in our mouths, and stemming from our hearts. I like the advice I heard once: never say anything about any individual or group of people that you wouldn’t have the courage to say in their physical presence.
So let me make a modest proposal: it is indeed time for us to take a stand. But the stand we must take must be against the very tendencies of our own hearts to denigrate, demoralize, and even dehumanize our opponents. What is called for is the old-fashioned advice to love our enemies. Let us not mistake this for weakness or even for acquiescence in the face of wrong-doing and injustice. It is powerful to see the humanity of another enough to open yourself to critique. It is powerful to listen to anger long enough to be instructed by it. It is powerful to do your own thinking instead of borrowing from the ideas, memes, and takedowns provided by the many manufacturers of contempt. It is powerful to deescalate a situation with kindness and with common ground.
One of the effects of learning to love our enemies is that we discover we have far fewer than we thought. This gives us more energy for fighting the battles that really matter. It will also give us powers of persuasion unavailable in any other way and even teach us new ideas and new perspectives we had never considered.
So, yes, love really is the answer.
George Handley currently serves as Chair of the Provo City Council. He writes and teaches about the humanities at BYU.
Have you ever had an experience where you learned something about someone that changed the way you felt towards them or caused you to see them with more understanding or compassion?
As we learn about the experiences and challenges of others, we can begin to see one another from a new perspective. As we open our hearts to the people around us, we might ask ourselves, “What if their story were my story?” Learning about someone’s story can help us remember that we are so much more than the labels that we allow to divide our community.
Starting tomorrow, Provo Kindness is launching a video series entitled Portraits of Provo. These short videos will highlight the experiences of our neighbors, community leaders, and friends. We hope their stories will inspire you to find ways to more deeply understand the experiences of others. Through understanding, we can create a more connected and inclusive Provo.
We are excited to introduce you to some of the amazing individuals who are making a difference in our Provo community. These individuals discuss what belonging to a community means for them here in Provo, what their personal experiences have been, and what they wish people understood about their unique stories.
Camlyn Giddins, the Community Engagement Coordinator at Encircle, described what she has learned about belonging. She explains, “I used to think that belonging had to mean that I found people that were just like me . . . but I’ve now realized that it doesn’t have to be that way. I can belong even with someone that is very different from me but is still choosing to care about me and welcome me to that space.”
Brian Yazzie, the Diversity & Equity Coordinator for Provo City School District, spoke about diversity. He said, “I think that’s what makes a community unique is when you have such diversity that we can all learn from each other. It’s what life is all about is to try to embrace each other and to look at each other as a brother and sister.”
Leonard Bagalwa, the Founder and Executive Director at Utah Valley Refugees, expressed, “I wish we all can say, ‘let’s learn from each other.’” This is what we hope Portraits of Provo will inspire in our community.
Portraits of Provo was created to help us learn from each other, get to know our neighbors, and embrace community. As we listen to and learn from our Provo community members, we hope these experiences will inspire each of us to find ways to “cultivate a community of understanding, empathy, connection, and respect.”
You can view the Portraits of Provo videos here.
by Kristen Cramer
Earlier in my life, I spent nearly a decade working for FranklinCovey, and was therefore regularly exposed to Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As I observe the world in which we live, with all the hatred, violence, and hurt, I can’t help but think of Habit 5:
Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.
I’d like to look at this habit and how it can increase kindness in the world. Before I dive into my thoughts, let’s get a couple of definitions laid out.
Take note that none of the three definitions listed for “understand” contain “agree”. You can perceive the intended meaning of things, and their significance, explanation, or cause of them without agreeing that it is correct. I keep seeing instances in the news and social media where people do not feel understood because the other person does not all of a sudden agree with their position. This leads to hurt, and feelings of being misunderstood or being marginalized. People at times extrapolate someone not agreeing with them on a subject to not understanding, and taking it further by accusing the person of having hatred toward that thing or group of people.
So how do we put a stop to it? What if we can understand something without agreeing? Imagine taking the time to really hear why a person believes and acts the way they do, to hear their story. As you come to know of their struggles, successes, hardships, upbringing, and more, perhaps their world view might just make more sense. Your world view may not change, but you can now understand why their view differs from yours. Sometimes our views do change as we learn more about other people and their experiences. We are capable of intellectual growth, and should embrace truth as we find it.
As you really listen to someone rather than prepare your retort, maybe you will find areas of common ground. Maybe you both have a passion for increasing literacy, or a passion for taking care of the Earth. Maybe you learn new ways of looking at an issue that will help you both come to an even better solution that hasn’t been put forward yet. Maybe you will still passionately disagree and think the other person is crazy, but you at least understand what thought process led them to their opinion or decision.
The second half of Habit 5 is to “then be understood.” It’s a two way street folks! It’s not enough for just one person in the conversation to be understood. Make sure you are ready to give the same courtesy to the other person. We would all be better off if people were willing to take these steps, even if they can be uncomfortable.
Just remember what comes first. You must seek to understand the other person. Don’t just shout from the rooftops about how misunderstood you are and wait for people to come around to your point of view. Be the one to listen first.
I honestly think we would come up with better solutions to the world’s problems if we sincerely listen to others rather than just hide in our own opinion camp and throw hatred at the other side. I also believe that as we strive to understand others, we will find much more in common with those who at first glance seem so different than us.
Remember, understanding someone’s perspective does not mean you have to agree with them. Likewise, just because someone agrees with something doesn’t always mean they understand it. Let’s talk. Let’s gain understanding. We might just find some things we agree on.
Kristen Cramer has lived in Provo for over a decade. She is the wife of an amazing husband, mother to three incredible children, and is passionate about doing good. She also enjoys photography, hiking, gardening, and reading.
By Rebecca Nielsen
A friend posted the above quote a few weeks ago and it struck me. I mean, REALLY struck me. Read it again.
Often times I pat myself on the back for being a nice person. After all, the world needs more nice people, right? And I am doing my part to fulfill the quota of niceness. I strike up small-talk with the local grocery clerk. I always respond to people politely. I try to smile at strangers. You know - I do my best to make sure people see that I’m nice.
But what good does that really do? Of course, it doesn’t hurt a thing to be well mannered. But does my emphasis on tact make a real difference in people’s day? Do they actually allow me to connect with people on a higher level? It kind of hurts to admit it, but here’s the answer: No. In fact, sometimes these routine niceties even prevent real relationships from evolving and I think we don’t even realize it.
I have a neighborhood friend that I’ve known for years. I smile & wave every time we pass each other. I’m nice to her. But one day last year, I actually stopped to talk. I came to find out her husband had left her a year earlier and that she didn’t have enough flour in her pantry to make her child a birthday cake.
I was mortified. “How could I have not noticed?” I thought to myself. “If I’d only known, I’d have been more than happy to support her!” But that’s just it - I didn’t know. I didn’t know because I hadn’t taken the time to find out. I had been nice, but certainly not kind.
Through some actual action, some friends and I were able to provide help and support to our very deserving neighbor. It was an incredible experience. It changed me. The smiles and waves were nice, but the action we took was kind. And now I find myself working to make sure that from now on, my acts of kindness come from who I truly am rather than who I want people to think I am.
Here’s the thing: being nice and being kind don’t have to be separate. They can certainly complement each other and we definitely need both. But have you ever been so nice to someone that you had no idea you weren’t being kind? True kindness connects people. It’s empathy, love, and action. It can be real and tangible. And it’s needed now more than ever before. So take some time to think today: are you nice, or are you kind?