“We were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be.”
~ Ishmael (Chapter 10 from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick)
They often say you cannot judge a book by its cover and I know first hand that this expression applies to people as well. I have found over the years that sometime it is those who may seem at first the most different from me, that turn out to be good friends, partners, or teammates. In the fall of 8th grade, I joined the Teen Leadership Corps at Cradles to Crayons. As I drove into the Brighton headquarters I was immediately having second thoughts given that I didn’t know a single person who I was going to be working with for the next six months. The group was made up of teens from the Metro Boston area. As I walked past the bins of clothing at the back of the warehouse, those that had already arrived for our first meeting were sitting on a series of short bleachers arranged in a semicircle. At first glance, not a single person was smiling or making eye contact with me, or anyone else. There were just a lot of people looking down at their phones and waiting for the leader to start the meeting. Reluctantly, we went around the room and shared a little about ourselves - the name of our school and hometown and a little about our family life and hobbies. Based on this cursory demographic information, we appeared to have nothing in common. In my head, this six month volunteer position could not go quick enough - I admittedly had little hope for the experience and I’m sure I projected my concern with my attitude. The next week, I tried to get out of going, but I was forced to go. This pattern repeated itself for several weeks until at some point, a point that I can’t quite identify, I found myself enjoying going. As I reflect on what changed for me with this experience and these people, I can see that when we started to work together on fulfilling the mission of Cradles to Crayons, when we started to brainstorm, plan and implement some of the programs we had come up with together, we discovered that while we had little in common demographically, we shared something much more important, values and goals. At the end of the six months, having created several clothing drives together, we were actually quite close. I learned a lot from my time with the Teen Leadership Corps, but one unexpected lesson was that you never know what subtle things will bring you together with others and sometimes, those connectors are below the surface in less obvious ways.
Since this experience, I have found that it is a lot more powerful when you enter a new group to look for what you have in common, rather than what makes you different.