I wrote this several years ago but seems more relevant today.
I had completed a week of work and was happy to be on a flight home even though it was a long cross-country flight. It was also happening in the midst of a tense presidential election campaign in the United States. I had just settled in my seat when a supporter of a candidate sat down next to me. I only knew this as she carried a book about the candidate and told me she had loved this person since a very young age. I thought this is a long flight that just became much longer now that I have a supporter of “X” candidate sitting next to me. In that instant I thought, why has she liked this person for so long and is it possible that we, I mean I, can look past our differences and see the gifts that are present, confined to these 2 adjacent seats on a jet for three hours and 30 minutes?
I asked a question about something other than the candidate and I quickly learned that this person was a determined mother, a talented graphic designer, loves to travel, is very curious about others, passionate about history, and very resourceful. As the conversation went on it was irrelevant who either of us may vote for as we got to know each other. This flight never went by so quickly. I commented on how great it was to travel with her and that I do this flight often and thanked her for making the flight so interesting and enjoyable.
Our conversation made me think of the people that we often attach a label to. The label may be of homeless, drug-addict, immigrant, welfare mom, disadvantaged youth, developmentally disabled or even a supporter of a candidate . Deficit based labels can make it more difficult to see the gifts of a person . We often then think that there are agencies that care for this person. We can think that we don’t need this group because they have special support or that the agencies are THE community for them. But real care can only be found in the community. There are times when the agency support can be an insulator from other citizens and communities. These labels and perceptions can be barriers to tapping into undiscovered gifts.