Perpsective

A Message To All My Friends, Regardless Of Race, Religion Or Political Party

Closeup image of hands of businesspeople on top of each other as symbol of their partnership

You’ve undoubtedly heard phrases like “you are a product of your environment” OR “you are the result of the 4-5 people that you spend the most time with.” It’s true.

The fact is, we all live in a bubble. Some, much more than others.

I don’t write this in any way, to imply that I am above this problem or that I do not live in a bubble myself. Because I’m aware that I do. In fact, it is my assessment that you and I will always live in a bubble for as long as we are on this earth.

Especially as the wealthy Americans that we are, regardless of our class here in the United States.

However, I do want to state clearly, that I am advocating that we each work to expand our respective bubbles from today on, every single day, for the rest of our lives.  It is my goal to have the biggest damn bubble possible, before I leave this earth for a greater life!

Alright, so now that I’ve opened up with disclaimers [because I’m brain-washed by the media to be politically correct (PC) and tip-toe around offending anyone], here are more facts unfiltered by the PC media; I write them with zero apologies.

Our bubble is defined by our network – a [hopefully] growing sum, comprised by our family, our friends, our co-workers, our church, our fitness community, our volunteer group and those people involved with any other hobbies, activities or pastimes that we participate in on a regular basis.

It’s the people “we do life with.”

Despite the fact that, regardless of our human race, our DNA is 99.9% identical, we tend to do just about all of the activities above with “our objective own kind” aka those from our same human race or regional orientation – the people who talk, look and act the same as we do in most categories of life.

NOTE: It’s objective, because you cannot change your race or place of birth.

How blasphemous of us! Who are we to think that we are so different from those who aren’t the same human race as us, let alone from the same state in America, when God has designed us to be 99.9% identical when it comes our physical makeup?

Not to mention that He obviously had specific intentions in the .01% differences, which I interpret to be because he still wanted to make us all with some unique characteristics [blessings from Him] for some unique reason(s) that still pertain to his ultimate purpose [to bless others in His name for His glory].

But the facts are the facts. More than 87% of us here in “the land of the free,” choose to do things with people who are the same race, from the same place, who talk the same, with the same cultural tastes, etc.

Even though “our own objective kind” is really not our race, it is our humanity. Our human kind, should ultimately transcend race for us, and we should not be afraid to go outside of this boundary that we’ve imposed on ourselves.

Now, before I got any further, I want to provide clarity in stating that I do indeed understand that we are all from a specialized, niche culture within the general human race – that is, we are all from a different race(s). And that each of these niches have their subjective preference and appreciation for specific foods, music, dancing and so on.

This is called culture, and I have a passion for exactly as many cultures as I’ve been blessed to be exposed to, and I hope I’m exposed to more cultures throughout my remaining years here on earth.

It’s understandable that a childhood upbringing in a specific culture will create a unique perspective in each of us, with certain preferences and even biases. I wish we would stop tip-toeing around this fact and own it – we have natural prejudices.

However, the more we expand our bubble to more cultures, the more we dilute these prejudices and are inclined to be biased toward more things and closed to less. Why? Because we’ve related to more cultures!

I’m an Italian-American born in Upstate New York. Nobody has more appreciation for their culture or race than I do. I love the culinary, musical, passionate culture I come from. But despite “the box” many might presume I fit into as an Italian-American; I am not Catholic, I do not participate in mafia activities and I don’t play bocce ball [enough:)], even though many who know my culture, might assume these characteristics about me instantly.

There are things I’ve taken from my culture that I love (ie. our food, our slang, our passion, etc.), but as I referenced earlier, there are other characteristics that my race is known for, which I don’t identify with whatsoever. There are people who will assume that I am somebody in particular, without knowing me, just because of my culture. It can be good and it can be bad.

I could paint the same picture as a completely misunderstood Upstate New Yorker, living in the heart of The South, where people consistently think they know things about me or who I am, before they’ve gotten to know me, just because of where [they think they know] I am from.

Little do they know, I’m from a small town [Syracuse] with great fishing, deer hunting and other activities that happen to be very popular down south. Yet, many people hear me say New York, and they assume I am from Times Square or something!?!

When conversations like these arise, I explain these things patiently and then urge folks to “expand your bubble and take a trip to the northeast.” The northeast and its metro areas are not all concrete and buildings, even though we have do indeed have some beautiful structures in that region of the country.

This goes both ways, however. Although my business and my family are based in Birmingham, Alabama, I travel to cities and markets all over the U.S., and am even challenging myself to travel to countries around the world. No matter where I am, when I explain I’m from Birmingham, the reactions I get never cease to amaze me.

For instance, I was in Boston just yesterday, and I met a woman who happened to be from the same area of New York State as I am. She was shocked [almost appalled] that I would live in Alabama! Of course, I patiently explained how wonderful Birmingham is, and all of the revitalization and growth that is taking place here.

I am blessed to have the perspective of having lived or been to both places, which expands my bubble! Maybe through my story, I can expand her perspective as well.

Just like race and region can be phrased as “our own objective kind,” there is also “our own subjective kind,” which is many times an inherent result of the latter – meaning that “our own objective kind” can determine “our own subjective kind”.

These folks who believe the same as your religiously, have the same taste in fashion and interior design, are members of the same political party, live in the same type of home, attend the same school, enjoy the same type of music, make the same amount of money, etc.

Unfortunately, we tend to spend almost ALL of our time with folks who share these commonalities, which further cement these characteristics in ourselves and further separate us from anyone who is of an alternative characteristic!

Where do you stand when it comes to this?

Assess your personal network, made up of your family, friends, co-workers, church, and fitness community, and ask yourself “How many of the people I spend my time with are different than me objectively and/or subjectively?”

I recently read New Orleans Saints TE Benjamin Watson’s incredible book Under Our Skin and, although I consider myself a pretty diversified person with a decent-size bubble, I was challenged to expand it.

As an African-American male who has excelled in the National Football League for a decade, Watson has used his platform to be an advocate for his race, during the unfortunate racial conflicts that have taken place in Ferguson and other cities throughout our nation over the past few years. However, Watson is ultimately an advocate for the human race and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in this work.

He uses phenomenal anecdotes like this TED Talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (almost 10 million views), who talks about the “Danger of a Single Story.” Something we are all at risk of living out, if we don’t challenge ourselves to expand our respective bubble!

My favorite anecdote that Watson uses, is from the movie A Time To Kill, where he describes this scene below.

Watson challenges us to think about when we have taken our families and gone to “the other side of the tracks”, wherever that might be to us, to connect with those who might seem culturally different.

I feel like I’ve challenged myself on this for years, but lately I’ve gotten comfortable. I’m not saying I don’t love my network of fellow-Entrepreneurs, Dads, Republicans, Mentors, Christians, New Yorkers, Italians, African-Americans, Sports Fans, Rock ‘n Roll Lovers, Hip Hop Enthusiasts, etc… (the current circles I am already active within). I do love that I have a network of all these folks and more.

But my bubble can be bigger. I want to experience more cultures and mix them with the one that God’s already blessed me with.

I want to develop compassion for those who feel oppressed, by listening to their perspective instead of assuming I already know “what’s right.”

I would like to understand why others don’t believe that Jesus died on the cross and saved us, even though I’m convinced its the truth and will do whatever it takes for those to hear why I think that.

I am interested in new foods I’ve never tasted before.

I always like hearing new music. I love being in my car and going from Frank Sinatra, to George Michael, to Chris Stapelton, to ColdPlay, to Wu-Tang Clan.

Do we not realize that mixing all of the above is the hybrid that made America?

If we can each challenge ourselves once per week, once per month, or just once in general, to try to be the minority of a new crowd or small group of people that we would not normally associate ourselves with, I guarantee that we can improve the unity that is missing right now in America.

I happen to be blessed to be the President of a growing brand called Iron Tribe, where for 45 minutes each day in our fitness classes, your culture doesn’t mean a thing. We sweat through the grueling workouts together, routing each other on and thus, uniting closer together with new folks that aren’t a different culture but a part of the same one.

I’m also blessed to be a board member of The Aspire Movement, a mentoring ministry that connects two at-risk groups together in The Church, where we recruit adult men to become mentors to Fatherless Children, who need a positive male figure in their life.

These experiences have opened my eyes even more than moving to Alabama from New York, just 13 years ago. I’m convicted that I need to expand my bubble. This blog is a call to action for you to join me.

Let’s get this country back to the melting pot it once was. I guarantee that, if we did this, the hateful either/or society that media continues to cultivate today, will transcend into a society where right and wrong mean much less and compassion for our fellow man means much more.

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