My children and I met a new family today, each having similar aged children. Both visited our mutual friends for a Christmas cookie baking occasion. The youngest ones were quite friendly and immediately engaged over toys, the dog, and pending cookies. The oldest ones, solidly into their pre-teens, were a bit more withdrawn, not quite knowing how to strike a friendship – Until the subject of Pokémon was broached. And it was an afternoon of fast friendship from there on out. They connected over a shared interest, and then proceeded to draw one another into created new interests for the remainder of the day. I wonder if our adult selves might take a lesson from these kids.
Initial Hesitation – Initially, there was visible hesitation, almost nervousness in seeking the other out, preferring to interact with the adults and their own siblings. These kids are jumping headfirst into the developmental stage where they need to know they’re accepted before they have the courage to engage. But we never really grow out of that feeling, do we? That feeling of wondering if we’re going to be accepted. Adults learn to navigate this feeling with all kinds of techniques that mask, hide, obscure, or divert attention from the uncomfortable feeling of wondering if we fit it. This is exacerbated when entering situations in which bias and/or discrimination make it more certain that you don’t fit in. As I engage those in my world, I’m constantly looking for ways to say, “You’re accepted by me.” Can a smile or an engagement in conversation welcome the part of the person who feels unwelcome? Can we share a cookie or a drink? Can a love of their hairstyle, or our shared location diminish that initial hesitation for both of us?
Shared Interest – As little as an interest in the flavor of a much-loved food can be connecting. For the pre-teens it was a small set of shiny, Pokémon cards. I showed interest in the cards and displayed disappointment that we had not brought our rather large collection along. Love of trading was mentioned and the two were now talking to one another. As I meet individuals in my community, I must be on the lookout for tiny moments like that. What fun thing do we both love? Do we have a shared struggle? I accept the premise that we are uniquely the same, so can go about excitedly learning about the uniqueness, and exploring the sameness.
Creative Pursuits – When crossing cultural or ethnic “lines,” we may not be able to rely on our usual connection techniques – Perhaps our normal small talk isn’t as connecting with another culture as it is with our own. It’s important to cultivate the creativity to find other ways to discover shared interests… or develop new ones. Once we’ve found a small, shared interest, we can creatively spin off that interest into new ones. These kids created a shared game of driving the dog nuts in trying to keep them all in one place, together they ate massive amounts of cookies, frosting, and most importantly sprinkles. They created silly games and climbed trees. As adults, we sometimes get stuck in our ruts and our schedules. But when we can creatively step into something just a bit new, we can discover a whole new connection and understanding with others around us, relating within our unique sameness.
Photo Credit: Children Nature Network, https://nappy.co/childrennaturenetwork
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