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Change vision, not culture

There are people like us in every community.
By Betty Bobo Seiden
Summer 2010 5.15.10

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picket signs

(Bob Delboy)

What needs to change for Unitar­ian Universalism to grow more diverse is not our culture or our message, both of which we find comfortable. What we need to change is our vision. We need to change how we look at people.

A few years ago, when my husband and I were taking classes to become zoo docents, I was inspired by a young man who came to offer sensitivity training to help us respond to multicultural visitors. He brought an ordinary deck of playing cards and explained that he would give each of us a card, which we were not to look at. We were to hold our card, face forward, near our chest or forehead so that everyone else could see our card. Then we were to arrange ourselves into three groups and he pointed to where each group could gather. One group would be low cards, one group would be high cards, and one group would be cards with an average value. I was totally skeptical. This cannot work! To my complete surprise it took about three minutes for us to sort ourselves into three groups just as he had described. We knew where we belonged when we observed how others viewed us.

An experience closer to home occurred when the young man sitting next to me at choir rehearsal turned and said, “Thank you for singing with us.” I knew he meant well, but his use of the word “us” stunned me. I had been a member of that church choir since its very first rehearsal many years before he came to the church. I had been a Unitarian since before he was born. But in his eyes I was not “us”; I was probably a member of the Baptist or Methodist church in the neighborhood of our downtown congregation.

Our culture and our message may not appeal to everyone, but we need to recognize that there are people like us in every community. If we can look in the faces of people whose physical appearance is very different from us and honestly say, “I see my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, my aunt, my uncle, my cousin, my friend,” then maybe we can survive in a multicultural world.

For a guide to related articles, read "What is UU culture?"

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