This concept of stepping outside your comfort zone and taking a few steps into someone else's has been a personal struggle. In my head, I know that meeting people were they are can be a powerful way to break down walls and build bridges - particularly when the desired outcome is to elicit behavior change. But to actually push yourself to do this, is a different story. Be it race relations, violence prevention, or LGBT advocacy, all of my encounters that resulted in a deeper understanding and mutual respect, have involved me reserving judgement and seeing something from someone else's perspective.
I'm reminded of a physics professor at my alma mater, a small college tucked in the foothills of southeastern Kentucky. I never had him for a class because I feared his reputation of being brutal and unapologtetically demanding. Both of which many of his former students have confirmed to be true. But I also heard about another group of students who unknowingly found themselves in a required general science class taught by him. They were music majors, theater majors, and English majors who didn't have a natural "knack" for the sciences and struggled a bit to get through the course. For extra credit, this professor allowed them to write and perform musical pieces - like blues, rap, and classical - about the course content (in this case, the natural sciences). He didn't waste much time judging or penalizing them for not being able to keep up with the science majors, but instead, he met them where they were - a place that was most likely unfamiliar to him - and allowed them to use their natural talents to demonstrate, in their own way, that they had acquired the class knowledge. He could have failed them, made them think that they just weren't the "science type", turned them off from the sciences altogether. But instead, he nurtured them to absorb the fundamentals of science in a way that made sense to them. Many of these students went on to become choir directors, musicians, and artists. And I have no doubt that as they continue on with their journeys, it will one day occur to them, just how rare and special it is to cross paths with someone so willing to meet them where they were.
In memory of Dr. Amer Lahamer, who taught Physics and Natural Science at Berea College for 24 years. Dr. Lahamer passed away yesterday and will be missed greatly by many.