You are safe with me

shannon woa

I felt compelled to write this after a discussion I had with some coworkers. This essay truly comes from a place of love and hope. My intention in sharing it is encourage us to have more productive conversations. To find more commonalities than differences. And despite our differences, to choose to respect them and each other.

I walked over to my desk yesterday morning to hear the end of a conversation between several of my coworkers regarding President Trump’s comments towards numerous NFL players and their team owners over the weekend. I suspected that I might have walked in to hear something I might not agree with, but not having heard the full conversation, I chose not to comment. When the conversation began to conclude, one of my coworkers looked over at me and said, “you’re pretty quiet over there…” I admitted that I hadn’t caught the entirety of what was said. She summarized by saying that numerous players had chosen to kneel, among several other things, along with adding something I hadn’t yet heard – that the majority of the Pittsburgh Steelers team chose not to take the field on Sunday until after The Star Spangled Banner had finished, with the exception of their player and former Army veteran, Alejandro Villanueva. Additionally, the controversial excerpt of President Trump’s speech to which they were referring was, “wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

My coworkers were in agreement that the actions of the players who chose to kneel and stay off the field were disrespectful. Having viewed a short portion of a news story and had a brief discussion on it with my mom before leaving for work that morning, I responded by saying that I respectfully disagreed and felt the players had chosen a peaceful way to protest, which is one of the values for which our country’s military members are well-known for upholding, the First Amendment. The Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” 

To paraphrase one of my coworkers, she said that she didn’t know how that player (VilIanueva) could look his teammates in the eye after they did that to him. Without yet knowing what has now become the current conflicting information that his unaccompanied appearance was due to an accidental separation from his teammates during a moment of confusion in the tunnel, I continued that, in my opinion, these players had constructively and peacefully used their very public platform to make a statement against the mistreatment and injustice towards many members of the minority community, along with making a political statement against President Trump’s comments. I continued that I thought it was a two-way street and the players who remained in the tunnel during the anthem had no right to be angry at Villanueva for choosing to take the field on his own to stand for the anthem, just as Villanueva would have no right to be angry at his teammates for choosing to not.

A coworker then said that the players should’ve chosen another time and way to make a statement. She continued that the players should go protest outside the White House, though she thought that if they did that, it would likely “turn violent.” “If the players didn’t like what was happening and didn’t want to stand during the anthem, they should go play in another country where they can make money there.” I replied again that I had to respectfully disagree and I felt that essentially using the “if you don’t like it, you can leave” argument is one of the main outlooks that is helping to divide us when we should really be working to find ways to support one a another and bring us together.  

This conversation ended shortly thereafter, with my coworkers maintaining their beliefs that the actions the players had taken were wrong, while I continued my support of them. This conversation did not leave me offended or with feelings of anger or disappointment towards my friends and coworkers, but their comments and the experience as a whole stayed with me throughout the day. By the time I started my drive home for the day, I was unusually upset. It had all brought up a lot of strong feelings and I certainly found myself thinking, “I really wish that could have been more of a dialogue.” I did feel that my viewpoint had been met in a somewhat closed fashion. It left me feeling that I might be less willing to offer my opinion if asked for it on something similar in the future. That thought didn’t come from a point of pride that I didn’t “win over” any of my coworkers to my side. But I must admit that there was a short amount of time when I thought “what’s the point of trying to find middle ground when others have already made up their minds?”

I continued stewing over the conversation until I was struck by the thought, “could you imagine what we could accomplish as Americans and as citizens of the world if we went through life and entered conversations with open minds, open hearts and without fear of judgement or shame?” I have said this before and I truly believe that everyone has a story to tell and something that he or she can teach you…You just have to be open and willing to listen. I found myself relating this to my experience as a solo traveler and remembering that it is one of the many things I love about it. It also doesn’t hurt that, in my experience, other travelers seem to be in search of this same desire to meet and learn from others who we would not necessarily interact with or even be exposed to under everyday circumstances.

In The Innocents Abroad, Vol. II, Mark Twain wrote, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” I take from that, not a negative connotation, but more the interpretation of, “what if you could feel safe going through life and safe in conversations? What if our differences and our diversity of experiences, education and backgrounds actually ended up being our strongest assets?” I would venture to say that most of us have had some of the most profound and productive conversations when we felt safe with the other person/people in those conversations. I know that my life and views have been changed on many occasions because of the different people I’ve met and their willingness to entrust me with their perspective. These are people who have had different home countries, native languages, ethnicities, more and less formally educated, older, younger, more and less affluent or almost any other combination of adjectives.

What if we could live like that in everyday life though? We shouldn’t have to consider it brave for a person to make a statement, like many of those players who chose to peacefully protest, just as we shouldn’t have to consider it brave for Villanueva to have stood on his own. We should not have to be considered brave or as showing strength for the actions we take or for being who we are. Unfortunately, we do currently live in a world where this is the case, but whether you believe Villanueva was in fact knowingly standing alone or mistakenly separated and intended to stay with his teammates, we should be supportive of either principle. It should simply be another perspective of which to be aware.

There are moments for some of us when, even though all of the evidence might disprove our belief, something in our gut just doesn’t allow us to accept it. It may not be scientific and, hopefully, it doesn’t happen very often, but we should still be able to say, “I know it doesn’t make sense for me to think like this despite all of the evidence to the contrary, but I just have to disagree.” And those with the evidence in their favor should be equally willing to say, “I may not agree with you, but I still respect you as a person and you still belong.” 

It is not my intention to start or be a part of any arguments, but I do want to make very clear that I want any and all of you to feel as though you can have a calm, safe and open-minded discussion with me about any topic. I truly believe that there should always be some way to communicate so we can understand each other’s perspective in some form, even if we don’t end up agreeing. Our differences are an asset. I respect you. You are important in this world. You are safe with me.

Originally published on Shannon's Blog.

PS This is the perfect supporting blog post to Brene Browns current book Braving the Wilderness