Together, Differently

I sit on the Mayor of Edmonton’s Task Force to End Poverty. It’s a diverse group including the expected mix of leaders from government, business, education and community services. At a recent gathering we were working together to increase common understanding about poverty as well as to move forward with identifying strategies.

In this session we were gathered in small groups around round tables. At my table the folks there represented those that might be considered to be on the far left and those on the far right and everything in between. (I will let you imagine where I fit on that spectrum!)

This little story is not about left or right, but about how people from all walks of life, each with their own ideologies, their lenses and biases, as well as their compassion and insights can walk together toward a day when poverty is no more.

One of the gentlemen there clearly operates at the opposite end of the “spectrum,” than I do. For a time, he and I (and others) seemed like we were debating positions more so than exploring possibilities together.  We listened to one another, expanded on one another’s thoughts or beliefs and there were numerous points where we did not agree.

Here is what I found to be so amazing and encouraging. No one was facilitating our round table conversation. We went back and forth; everyone spoke, granted some more than others. I imagine some of the things said by one rankled the sensibilities of another, but we were respectful and we kept at it. I remember thinking as things progressed that despite our differences, all of us were there for the same purpose: to end poverty in our community.

I know it wasn’t magic, but it had that feel to it. Perhaps it is was more like a mysterious convergence. Why? Because we all discovered, through the sharing of, and dialogue about, our differences that at the end of it all, we were on common ground. We just travelled to it from different places.

Yes, our differences remained. Our politics were not transformed. Our fundamental beliefs were maintained, but we used them to create understanding and commitment to the work before us.

There are a host of tools we can use to foster dialogue, but in the final analysis, it takes people to welcome other people into their minds and hearts, accept our differences as well as our imperfections, and move forward together.

I discovered as the meeting drew to a close that the gentleman that was most different from me had become my ally and I had become his. To paint a bit of a stereotypical picture: imagine a gentleman in a suit I could never afford, neat and tidy hair, shoes that shone and another gentleman in jeans, untucked shirt, sandals, and a tad scruffy walking together toward the same place. Together, differently.

It made my heart sing. And I have to believe, his did, too.

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