In addition to the life lesson gained from the fire mentioned in the 3/13/17 post, there was another memorable childhood moment that made a life long impression on me, and it dealt with building bridges between people divided by artificial barriers…
When we first arrived from Germany, I attended Benjamin Banneker Junior High School in Burtonsville, Maryland. The public school was known for quality academics, but I was shocked to find that many of the 7th-9th grade kids voluntarily segregated themselves along racial lines, usually during lunch time.
Although this was natural to the student population, and probably throughout the USA at this time, it was unnatural to me.
I spent most of my formative years on a U.S. Military installation overseas, where service members and their families felt a sense of cameraderie and mutual reliance that is often forged in military communities based on the shared sacrifice and comittment to something larger than any individual.
I approached my father and mentioned that I was a bit unsure about what to do, and he recommended that “you should just be yourself, and not worry about what everyone else is doing. Be a leader.”
So I ended up being a nomad, roaming around tables and chatting up whoever was friendly and receptive. I often received strange looks, stupid comments and suspicions about what planet I was actually from, but in the long run, it tuned out to be good advice.
I became a bridge builder between various groups, quite popular, and learned how to understand the full range of perspectives.
As an adult, I recognize that most military veterans and their dependants have the same ability, as it is a reflection of growing up in that type of environment. Of course, kids today are comfortable with diversity, and that is a good thing.
Whether it is at work, in a social environment or as a member of an athletic team, people who can connect across demographic lines usually emerge as natural leaders.