Do you remember the end scene of Armageddon, when communities around the world are rejoicing, and in America children are running through the streets (slow-mo) waving flags, having soap box derbies, and joyfully playing in the streets together? You know – that version of the 1950s that we all bring forth in our heads when we think about where we want our kids to grow up?
What. On Earth. has gone wrong in our communities…
This image was juxtaposed in my mind – and the issue brought to a head – about 4 years ago when a couple went on a shooting rampage in San Bernardino. Do you remember this story? This was the one where the young couple, with a new baby girl (only 6 months old), decided that destroying and killing and raging all of their pent-up anger and hate was more worth it than raising their own sweet child. And for some reason I got obsessed with this story. And I couldn’t let go of that one thought – what could have ever prompted them to that? What could have been so bad that the raging inferno was preferable to babylove?
And so I listened and obsessed over the news stories, and do you know what I heard? In the newscasts, the papers, the stories that were told about the couple, a pattern emerged – a pattern of neighbors and people in their community saying things like “oh, they lived there? I can’t believe that” and “no, I didn’t really know them – I don’t think I ever actually spoke with the wife” and “huh, I guess I saw them from time to time, maybe with a baby? I never talked with them, though.”
What. On Earth. has gone wrong in our communities.
Their neighbors? Didn’t know them. Only knew that they had a loud rooster and shot fireworks on the fourth of July. There wasn’t one interview where a neighbor said that they had gone over when these two, newly married, newly babied young people – one from another country – had brought their new baby home. In fact, at stories of their wedding, the neighbors said that they basically hadn’t talked at all with the new bride. No one reported bringing them a welcome plate of brownies or a pot of chicken soup when the baby was born or a minute’s worth of time to wonder about them and offer some free babysitting when the new parent’s were at wit’s end.
Perhaps this is because there was no community of which to be a member.
Now, I don’t know the particulars of this story. And I do not say that it was the fault of the neighbors or the community that the shooting happened – just like the Columbine shootings, we have to allow the shooters to take responsibility for their own terrible actions. What I do offer up is that I don’t know one community in America now that looks like that idealized Norman Rockwell painting Armageddon slow-motion scene. And perhaps…perhaps this is something that we should look at when we’re trying to figure out what action we, we human beings, can take when faced with increasing violence in our communities.
Because it’s pretty crap to be the other. And it can make one feel hopeless and lost.
So I’ve lived all over the world for most of my adult life. And I’ve lived in communities far from home for all of my adult life. And let me tell you something – when I move into communities where I don’t know a soul, and especially the ones where I don’t speak the language, it can be exhausting. Actually – it can be downright terrifying. And I have to put on my big girl panties and whip out my phone and be socially awkward (“oh, you seem kind of nice – what’s your number? Want to come over for dinner? Yes I know we met 3 seconds ago in the aisle of this grocery store and I totally think we could be lifelong friends!”) and just live with rejection over and over and over again and be strong enough to keep believing that I’m awesome and that I’ll eventually find friends.
And, y’all, I have a built-in support structure.
I have an amazing Ohana. I have parents and siblings that would jump in front of buses for me. And I have kids and a spouse that are incredibly fantastic to be around. I have friends all over the world that I can call when I’m lonely those first 4 months at a new place and blubber my life out to. Not only that, but I have the military family to lean on and look to at every new place we move. I have people that are there for me, that I can just talk to sometimes.
my otherness in communities still overwhelms me.
I can’t imagine what it’s like for a new mom, that can’t speak the language, that doesn’t understand the culture, that doesn’t have anyone to talk to. I weep for such people, and I vow that, when I am back in the United States, I will do it differently.
So, perhaps, the next time you see that Chinese mom at your kid’s school that doesn’t speak a lick of English and seems harried all the time – perhaps go up to her and talk to her. And smile. And maybe give her a hug. Even if she can’t speak back to you, she can most likely understand a bit of what you’re saying. Tell her what a good mom she is. Tell her how brave you think she is. Maybe, maybe invite her to your book club (you have no idea how huge that is). Just…keep saying it every time you see her. It makes a huge, an astronomical difference.
And the next time you see that mom that just doesn’t quite fit into the social circles of the community? Maybe go over and ask her where she’s from. Tell her you like her jeans. Just…maybe give her a wee bit of love. Because when we can’t get love from the people around us, it can feel like the world is ending and there’s no point to it all. At least…that’s my opinion. Any other Superwomen out there that have experienced being the other? I’d love to hear your stories…
Carmen Westbrook is the CEO and co-founder of Aina Leadership, the premier leadership development firm that takes individuals and turns them into worldchangers. As a mom of three, CEO of a multinational corporation, diplo-spouse, and furry dog owner, she’s most definitely on the run as her own version of Superwoman. Learn more about the Becoming Superwoman life.