This political season has spotlighted that there are many different views out there. I bet if we talked with each other more, and less in the heat of the moment, we would listen to each other better and come out a stronger nation. We can hold on tightly to our beliefs, but we can also build relationships with folks not quite like us.
Without dialogue, it is easy to label others, and then dismiss them completely. With dialogue, we can still disagree, feel just as passionate, but find a person, not a label on the other side, equally deserving of love and acceptance, and a listening ear.
In my work, one person is easily labeled: Mom. Really? Mom and apple pie. Mom and chicken noodle soup. Mom and a hug when we need it most. Mom and homework, soccer practice, birthday parties, carpool line. Mom and just about everything.
In my work, Mom isn’t praised for what she does, how she makes us feel, or even for whom she is. In my work, moms are easily labeled as the problem, the short-sighted, the worthless good for nothing, the pariah to stay away from. Offering this label – by offering any label about folks not quite like us – brings us all down, frankly. It poisons the well of our common humanity.
I work on behalf of children in foster care, as we restore dignity, build relationships, and provide a community network, always working in partnership with leaders from our state child welfare system.
Last year in our state, 3,407 children entered foster care, often due to Mom’s actions or inaction. Mom had chosen a manipulative man or an enticing drug instead of her vulnerable child. Mom’s choices caused family turmoil, with relatives deciding next steps. How could they get involved? Helping Mom and Child created solutions. Labeling and tossing aside Mom created pain. Over 265k children entered the U.S. foster care system last year.
The holidays are difficult for many children in foster care, as they miss their own families, with many missing Mom most of all. Recognizing this deep loss, we provide a holiday feast called Thanksgiving Grace, a meaningful time for children in foster care and their families to begin the holiday season together, in partnership with a caring faith community and an innovative child welfare department.
After six years of running Thanksgiving Grace, I admit I used to label Mom. Would she show up for the family event? Or, would she be a disappointment to her waiting, expectant children. Would I take the time to understand, to recognize, to even care for her? Could I remove the label and see her as another human being, deserving my embrace. Could I? Can we?
Of the 70 families participating in Thanksgiving Grace over the years, only one family has not arrived. Only one mom out of 70. Poignantly, I have learned these moms are struggling, but also deeply in love with their children. I stumbled upon this truth. I threw away the label.
We now operate a program called Moms Matter. Moms feel heard and encouraged. They learn to see their selves as fully capable again. They learn to restore their bond with their children. They learn to be held accountable by peers, and to take concrete actions towards goals of reunification. Moms do indeed matter to these children.
Each of us deserves to be understood instead of labeled. To be embraced instead of scorned. To be valued. By embracing another not like us, we may discover someone just like us.
To heal from the political season we just had, one of blame, scorn, and distrust, I offer a challenge to us all. Reflect on the personal supply of labels you keep hidden inside, ready to use. Schedule a holiday lunch with another whose positions are markedly different than your own. Lay the ground rules of mutual respect, try to listen more than you talk, and don’t try to win them over. Discover the real person behind the label, and we will all move forward, as a country. My best to you and your family this holiday season.
David White is Founder and CEO of Fostering Great Ideas, a charity dedicated to improving the lives of children as they struggle in foster care. Fostering Great Ideas was a 2015 recipient of the S.C. Secretary of State’s “Angel Charities” award and can be found at fgionline.org or on facebook. David is at firstname.lastname@example.org, and is always available for lunch.
*This article originally appeared in the December 23, 2016 issue of the Greenville Journal