Friday, February 14, 2014

An Opportunity to Change Perspectives

My local hometown newspaper is daily shazaamed to my inbox, and I alternately find it informative, amusing, and worthy of head shaking.  Today, it was provocative! A young Muslim woman wrote in her blog about how these polar temps have caused her to cover the hijab she normally wears with even more layers, thereby allowing her to see the world from a different perspective. If you don't have time to follow the link, she comments that we Westerners, when her signature Muslim head dress wasn't on display treated her in a more friendly and open manner, and she had far more conversations with non-Muslim strangers than she had ever experienced. She also commented that treatment from Muslims changed too.  People who would have normally engaged her in conversation, perhaps simply because they connected to her openly Muslim attire, looked past her and did not interact.

What a blessing this young woman experienced. As we age, we all fall more into who we truly are.  So much of that, whether we realize it or not, is based on really a reflection of others. We define ourselves not only in how we think, feel, and present ourselves to the world, but that definition is tempered in how others react to us--both positively and negatively--when we put ourselves into the world. As young people, we often experiment with that visage, and based on how comfortable we feel with those reactions, we adjust ourselves. Our reasons may be to hold and keep a job, to fit in with a way of life or a political movement, or it may have to do with climate and environment, but we're constantly finding our balance, until whatever we've come to simply works for us. How many of us have the opportunity to still be exactly who we are, but to completely change how people envision us? I can't think of any opportunities I have to do that anymore.

Far back in time, over 20 years ago, when I really was a different person, I used to challenge my students' perspectives. Then I was an early 20-something in graduate school, teaching developmental students with vague interaction from a mentor (who thought THAT was a solid plan?!). On the first day, I used to wear my ripped up jeans, my best concert t-shirt, sling my Jansport backpack over one shoulder, enter my classroom, and take a seat with the students. I'd wait until almost ten minutes after class was supposed to start (the time when people can leave without penalty), listening to the increasingly agitated and often off color commentary about this bleepity bleep bleep late professor. At the 10 minute mark, I'd get up, take a stack of syllabi out of my backpack, and start the class.  Since when I'd gotten up, many others started to as well, because who wants to be the first one, there was usually a scramble to sit back down. Often, there would be pulling down of baseball caps, hunkering into heavy coats if it were winter, and a generally stellar quietness. But that was a method, and I knew ahead of time I was observing things. This young lady didn't, and I found her even handed introspect interesting.

If you do follow the link, I have to say, don't read the comments.  While there are a fair amount of people who are engaging in an ongoing dialogue, and Leena the author is part of that dialogue, there are an equal number of idiotic comments. Some tell the American-born Muslim to "go back where she came from" if she doesn't like the treatment she gets, and others tell her she's oppressed and should throw off her oppression, but I don't see her blog post as a political or even religious statement, and I think the author would agree.  It's far more a statement that we need to stop letting the unfamiliar keep us from connecting with one another.

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