When They’re Happy and You Show It
Building blocks to bridge divides, reenter reverent discourse.
From our earliest moments, human flourishing hinges upon relating appropriately. To respond wrongly breeds lagged development and impeded connection.
This is why we soothe an upset baby, feed a hungry baby and rock a sleepy baby. Without any word spoken, a gap is traversed. Parental neglect (or newbie ignorance) is often to blame when either responded to incorrectly or overlooked altogether.
Like babies, our divides desperately need this posture of relating appropriately.
I have navigated 10 years of cross-cultural partnerships and community development within my field of work. From our first points of contact, what catalyzes or crushes momentum with leaders is relating appropriately.
Learning a few phrases in Amharic that extends beyond hello softens the sense of stranger. Scrolling through images conveying the glory of Aleppo before war devastated its skyline says I see you to my Syrian neighbors. Jumping on a Zoom call with East Asian leaders to ask how their family is doing when you hear of news of another village facing genocide — it honors the pain unspoken.
Like communities, our differences desperately need this posture of relating appropriately.
Antipathy is contagious too
Eighteen months of a partisan pandemic — who knew viruses could be politicized before 2020? Hindsight is, well, you know. Eighteen months of animosity to anyone who doesn’t bleed the same color as you ideologically, religiously or otherwise. Timeless tribalism only more readily seen by the settling dust of isolation, masks (actual or implicit) and the echo chamber of social media groupthink.
Some of us are eager for reentry into rhythms of foregone normalcy, but I fear our pandemic of scorn will only spread more rapidly. A children’s song many of us sung offers a way through. Simple enough a child can sing it, but profound enough as the building blocks for reverent human relations:
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands // If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands // If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it // If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands
No matter who we are, no matter what pins line our backpacks or decals bandage our bumpers — we emote. Babies emote. Communities emote. Your apparent enemies emote.
Some around you right now are clapping, they’re showing it and you don’t give a damn. Or they’re weeping, they’re showing it and you dismiss it as bottled up gas. Either way, it’s simply neighborly neglect.
Like infants needing an appropriate response, like community leader relations starting with identification, our times need relating appropriately. Otherwise our American reentry to business as before (#optoffline) will make us wish we lived under a perpetual stay-at-home mandate.
And everyone knows what that looks like.
Empathy isn’t childproof
The building blocks to reentry aren’t rocket science. Your significant other reminds you every date night how to do life with someone who was once a stranger and is now your world: You engage with what they love (and by association, distance yourself from what they hate).
It’s simple, but its application requires daily intentionality: celebrate with those who are happy; grieve with those who are hurting.
What this doesn’t look like is comparing when someone is happy, envying when someone is happy, condemning when someone is happy. It doesn’t look like scolding when someone is hurting, philosophizing when someone is hurting, dismissing when someone is hurting.
When they clap, you take notice and step in their shoes to see why.
When they stomp, you take notice and step in their shoes to see why.
You learn their language because they celebrate their heritage.
You listen to their stories because they grieve what time and war and disaster have stolen.
You humble yourself to say there might be more to learn and love anyways.
Not because you agree. Not because you tote the same holy books. Not because they like all your tweets.
You celebrate and grieve with others because to do so is as elemental as newborn life but as transformative as what that life well cared for will do writ large.
With each step, a stone is laid. The bridge might be years of effort to redress, to unlearn biases, to decategorize — but reverence is conscious, spoken, active.
Practically, you don’t have to look far in the year 2021. Variants (not Loki) of this virus give you right now a very IRL way to reenter what it means to be a neighbor. Not on the other side of the world. Not two zipcodes over. Just in your local hospital — and by extension, to the loved ones who wish with every fiber of their being that they could be there.
In that hospital are people you agree with and people you don’t. People who took that vaccine and those who think it’s from the devil himself. But unlike humans, viruses and disease take no sides.
There are neighbors in pain and they show it. There are loved ones in pain and they show it. Will we grieve?
Ten years of navigating diverse identities and I can think of nothing harder. It is so easy to say that they got theirs or dismiss them into the bin of statistics. That’s how deep this divide even yields its ugly head within my own heart and mind.
It is hard to grieve with action. But here’s your (and my) chance. It can be as simple as door delivering a meal, uninvited, unasked.
The beauty of action is that it often undoes the animosity we didn’t think could be let go. Clap anyways.