Why Build Bridges, Not Walls?

When I published my book, Everyday Ambassador, in 2015, I had no idea how the 2016 Presidential Election cycle would be run, and no way to predict what the socio-political aftermath would look like. I was just an individual with a message to share, a message that had been shared with me in my global travels and public service work, over and over again: build bridges, not walls. 

Why bridges?
Why not walls?

My thesis at the time was based on my own observations from working both in America and overseas, on diverse teams, on crucial issues. Issues like access to healthcare and education.

I saw over and over again that individuals who invested time and energy in building human connection — having patient, empathetic conversations with their clients, constituents, and community members — were the most successful in their endeavors, and saw through the most meaningful changes.

Those who instead aim for ‘quick wins’, who cared more about social media ‘likes” than offline conversations, and those who chose to fear or ignore rather than embrace the unknown, those were the people who failed in their efforts to make change. They oftentimes made the situation they aimed to fix even more broken.

In the one and a half years since my book’s publication, there has been more recognition than ever before of the “walls” we’re all guilty of putting up, every single day. Our social media echo chambers, our comfort zones of like-minded friends, our unwillingness to hear opinions that do not match our own. I’m not talking about ‘alternative facts’ — we should all be concerned and ready to push back against outright lies — I’m talking about people who have different lives experiences, different social circles, and different levels of exposure than those we’re used to. It is very difficult to be empathetic and patient when we disagree with another’s beliefs, no matter how we identify politically. But as I argued in Everyday Ambassador, and as we’re seeing in our country right now, human connection is a crucial component to the safety and well-being of our nation and our communities.

Paradoxically, it is only in building bridges, not walls, that we create strength and security for all.

It is in the spirit of Everyday Ambassadorship that our organization has recently transformed its model of impact. (We, too, were guilty of spreading our message of inclusion and connection among people who already agreed with the notion in the first place!) Therefore, this year, we are now offering customized workshops for schools and companies who want their students and employees to be “everyday ambassadors” — bridge builders, individuals willing to cultivate the empathy, patience, and humility required to make lasting connections that improve their campus, office, and community environments. We also offer individual support to young people who are living/volunteering overseas and aim to make the most of their experience in building a career with positive social impact. (More on our services here).

It is in this same spirit of Everyday Ambassadorship that we are also taking a firm stance on issues that affect our entire nation at this moment. We are not a political organization, rather we endorse the shared values of communication, common ground, and openness no matter where one stands on the political spectrum.  At the same time, we feel it necessary to point out when these values — which we believe are shared by most Americans — are being compromised, and we are proud to join a growing list of remarkable individuals in the field of social impact who recently penned a statement to our President on his recent Executive Order banning individuals from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the US. Please read our letter here, and please share it onward with friends and colleagues if you feel it offers a perspective that they may not have yet heard.

Lastly, if you haven’t yet read Everyday Ambassadorright now would be an appropriate time to dive in. Below is an excerpt that explains what it means to be an everyday ambassador, and why our country, and our world, would benefit from more action, everyday, to connect and begin building bridges.

Yours in the spirit of human connection,

Build Bridges

Excerpt from Everyday Ambassador: “An everyday ambassador is, quite simply, a bridge builder. A connector of the proverbial dots. An individual willing to transcend not just borders, like gender, nationality, and ethnicity, but the limits of our innermost comfort zones, in order to meaningfully connect and find common ground with others. Everyday ambassadors are willing to rethink, or altogether eliminate, stereotypes of people with whom they have little in common, whether they’re friends, family members, or strangers on the street. They honor differences and seek out hidden shared interests. They also help others rethink deep-seated, oftentimes false, assumptions in a gentle, nonjudgmental manner.

Everyday ambassadors strive to make the world a better place, whether globally or locally, and do so with a strong focus on crafting respectful, responsible human relationships…..

Being an everyday ambassador is also crucially important in our own cities and communities, where exclusionary attitudes, about everything from religion and gender to socioeconomic status, race, and lifestyle, often still prevail. Everyday ambassadors are the countless individuals who facilitate conversations at kitchen tables, in church halls, and on doorsteps, encouraging their peers to see past stereotypes and be more tolerant, accepting, thoughtful neighbors. Everyday ambassadors, whether at an international, national, local, or household level, are the people who embrace differences and see all people as equals, unconditionally worthy of respect.”

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