I remember being five or six when I first saw the now-famous Folgers Coffee Christmas commercial—the one in which Peter sneaks into his family’s house on Christmas morning and awakens his surprised and delighted family with the smell of coffee. The family embraces, clearly thrilled to have Peter home, and right on cue, I cry. Only a handful of commercials have this power over me—hitting on an emotion just waiting to be tapped into and released. It’s been a while since a commercial moved me to tears. So when I recently found myself crying at a commercial that ended with the tagline, “maybe there is more that brings us together than we think,” I was taken aback. The message drew me in and exposed in me a feeling of separateness. While I fit nicely into one group; a group of people who think and feel similarly, I also feel an isolation from “everyone else.” A need to refocus on what brings us all together was apparently brewing inside me. After thinking about it, I was reminded of a simple technique I had learned years ago to better understand and get to know those around me. I put that technique back into action. My mindset began to shift. And little by little, the wall of separateness has started to fade away as I find myself feeling more connected.
The commercial that inspired me was an advertisement for a Danish television network. It opens with an empty stage featuring white boxes painted on a black floor. Groups of men, women, and children converge on the boxes, each group fitting neatly into a box. There’s a group of nurses and doctors, men clad in motorcycle jackets, and men and women in suits, among others; all different, easily distinguishable “types” of people. And with that, the commercial reminds us, “It’s easy to fit people into boxes.” The commercial then poses a series of questions to everyone on stage: who among you loves to dance; is the class clown; has felt bullied; has saved lives; is a stepparent, and so on. And as these questions are asked, people step forward, one by one, out of their prescribed group. In doing so, new groups emerge: groups of people who share something greater than their age, ethnicity, profession, or clothing style. These new groups aren’t as easily identifiable by an outsider. Clearly, the new groups define not what these people are but who they are. And then that tagline—maybe there is more that brings us together than we think—provided the “aha” moment that made me want to jump into action.
I thought back to a challenge once assigned by a writing teacher. He directed me to change the way I approach my interactions at social gatherings, to better relate to and understand people. He cautioned me to stay away from the “what do you do?” and “where do you live?” questions, as those are the questions that put people into a box. They unearth our preconceived notions that lawyers, doctors, artists, or scientists are like this. Or that those who live in this part of town, that city, state, or country are like that. It’s also easy, with just a quick glance, to label someone as a part of your box or an altogether different box. My assignment was to ask questions that bring to the surface something more, perhaps by learning about the person’s likes or dislikes, how they think about art or sports, family, or friends; or what inspires them. With information that revealed another, deeper layer, the hope was to better understand the person in front of me. The logic was, if I continually sought to understand individual people, I would have a better understanding of people as a whole.
I admit that withholding judgment or bias based on first impressions and lifestyle choices can be challenging. But this commercial reminded me that after scratching the surface, there is almost always something more that binds us to one person or another than we may have first imagined.
So, this week, let’s take my professor’s challenge together: to learn more about those around us so we may begin to connect on a greater level. For easy techniques to guide you in this challenge, check out “Use Your Words For Good.” Instead of making quick judgments and putting people in “boxes,” let’s see where it takes us when we think out of the box altogether!
The point of the article seems to be about understanding others in order to feel less separate and more cohesive. So to make a tie-in to it being a much-needed skill in writing stories seems to drift from the higher purpose—I had forgotten you mentioned he was a writing teacher by this point. Your call!
Make A Change Today,