Adult and Baby Hands Intertwined

I got up early to get a head start on work to find my parents sleeping late in my guest room (which doubles as my home office). So frustrating. I can’t get anything done around here.

Can you relate?

As I write, I’m listening to my father talk to my husband about the possibility of prep school for my son. Who is two. Eye roll.

Can you relate?

It has been one of those days when other people are driving me crazy. Why can’t they just get with the (read: my) program? Some days it can be so hard to deal with humans. They all have their own agendas!

Situations like these (especially with my parents) can send me into a tizzy and my reaction can be… unkind, to say the least.

Deep breath. It can be hard to relate to others, especially days when I’m trying to juggle family, household, clients, and more. And I’m a pro - having lived in three different countries by the time I was 14, I had to learn how to deal with new customs, languages, and norms in order to survive childhood! So I get it. It’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. But I’m also convinced that it could be one of the most important social skills we ever develop.

Divides are created when disagreements go unsaid and when we forget that we all have unique experiences that have shaped each of us differently. A tiff with a parent can turn into a long painful battle if we don’t take the time to listen to each other, try to understand, and reconcile different points of view.

And it goes further than tolerating mundane inconveniences and family feuds.

People like Robi Damelin of The Parent’s Circle have shown us than relating to one another can transform conflict zones. Robi’s son, David, who was Jewish and Israeli, was killed on the Palestinian/Israeli border by a sniper who was Muslim and Palestinian. A “normal” response would have been for Robi to seek revenge, possibly to channel the emotions of agony into a hatred for all Muslims and Palestinians. Instead, she did the brave and difficult work of relating. She met Palestinian mothers who lost children in the conflict and realized what they all had in common, the pain of having lost children. Their ability to relate on this level transformed them from people whose societies had taught them to consider each other the enemy - into people who walked in the same shoes. This thread of empathy has created a movement of people seeking to work toward reconciliation and toward peace.

When I had the great privilege of meeting Robi, my son was 8-months old. Motherhood was fresh and provided me with a new connection point with this fellow mother.  I could feel the rage and agony at the thought of losing a son. To take that and transform it into connection, to peace at a personal and community level, was just extraordinary. I looked into her deep blue eyes and asked, “How did you do it?”. She took my hands in hers and said, “It is a long difficult journey, but I refuse to let anyone kill in the name of my son.”

Relating to each other is to create a connection that allows us to find the humanity in one another. Taking a moment to think about a situation from the perspective of “the other” can be transformational. We share a moment of each other’s humanity and remember that we are the same.

It feels trivial for me to relate a frustrating morning with my parents to the amazing work of Robi and The Parent’s Circle, but I think it’s important. The work that Robi is doing is having an impact on the world, just by the simple act of relating with people, one person at a time. Can you imagine the possibilities if each one of us did the same, across boundaries that are much less severe, with our parents, strangers on a train, or the homeless person on the corner?

So I remind myself to relate. I remember that my parents, who are in their sixties and seventies, have just been taking care of my child for the past week from 9-5 (and most days later). They’ve put their lives on hold and are sleeping on a sofa bed so that my husband and I can work while our sitter is on vacation.

I remind myself that my father wants the best for my son, and that in his life opportunities like prep school equal success.

I remind myself that he’s 73, from his perspective the 10 years between now and prep school will go by in a flash.

I also remind myself that it will sometimes be a struggle to put myself in someone else’s shoes, like this morning. It takes practice to relate, and I can definitely relate to that.

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About The Author

Andrea Atkinson's picture

Andrea Atkinson is a sustainability professional ( with a background in international relations, organizational management and sustainable community development. Andrea’s innovative community engagement and project management work for projects such as NEXUS Green Building Resource Center, Down2Earth Boston and Elevate Destinations Haiti Volunteer Trips and philanthropic education programs has resulted in high-impact and high-profile outcomes for environmental and social change.

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