In the most challenging year of my life, I have a challenge for you: Make a new friend — and I’m not talking about a friend who looks, thinks and acts like you.
Diversity brings new ideas and experiences, and we all can learn from each other. With purposeful effort, those new connections can lead to sweet friendships. Eight months ago, while sitting in spinal cord injury rehab, the fellow parents around me became a support group, a tribe of strangers who became friends from a shared experience, a loved one with a spinal cord injury. This past week, I spoke on the phone to one of those parents, a Jewish woman from southern California. I trust and respect her. We come from different bubbles, yet we respect and care for one another from the trust built in our shared experience.
I am a white 40-something female who calls the Midwest home. I recognize I live in a comfortable rural bubble. If I want to, I can stay right here and solely interact with white, Christian, conservative folks like 97% of the people around me, most of whom work in agriculture as well.
Sometimes I need my bubble to pop — and thanks to social media, I don’t have to leave home to do it. The first time I remember making new friends who were different than me, or anyone I knew, was in college.
As an 18-year-old, I left the comfort of North Dakota to attend college at the University of Georgia. It was there I learned to seek out, listen and engage with diverse groups of people different than me. While Athens, Ga., might not sound like the most diverse place to expand your bubble, for me, the large public university environment immediately grew my awareness of racism, ethnic diversity and socioeconomic factors. I opened myself to learn and, as a result, I developed friendships with people of different races, religions and political beliefs from all over the world.
The people I met as a college freshman and the life lessons have stuck with me. I don’t thrive in a bubble on the prairie. I thrive when seeking out diverse experiences with others.
Through the years, my varied roles in agriculture have allowed me to connect with people from New York to California, Washington to North Carolina, Texas to Canada and across the pond in Germany. However, diversity isn’t always prevalent in agriculture.
Earlier this summer, I spoke on the phone with a Midwestern friend who works in agriculture and lives in a rural area. She recognized she doesn’t have any racial diversity among her friend group, so she purposefully sought out new friendships through online connections and in her community to expand her thinking and experiences.
For those of you involved in agriculture and living in rural America, start with a small step like my friend. Connect with someone outside of agriculture. At the very least, listen to or read what a person of a different race, religion or political affiliation has to say.
Maybe it’s a social media “friend” you’ve never met in person, or a family member who shares a different perspective. Get to know the individual and why their beliefs are different. Your opinion is no more important than their opinion.
Be a part of expanding diversity. Let’s build connections, share experiences and diverse friendships.
COVID-19 might seem like a good excuse to not make new friends or even listen to a differing opinion. I disagree — it’s a perfect time. We have more time. Pop your bubble, break away from the divisiveness and make new friends during this challenging time.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at email@example.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.