When I meet someone new, I enjoy listening closely to that person’s accent and guessing, usually only in my thoughts and not aloud, where that person grew up. I’ve done this a long time and, alas, as the culture has become more homogenous since the second half of the 20th century, my little guessing game has become less accurate. Still, even within fairly narrow geographic borders like my state of North Carolina, I can often pin down an accent that corresponds to the mountains, the Piedmont, or the coast.
Similarly, I often see little tale-tell signs of a person’s past. For example, if someone’s teeth are not straight, I often speculate to myself that perhaps he or she had parents, like mine, who could not afford orthodontic treatment. All of this guesswork is sometimes disproven as I get to know the person, but the point is this: We all have a past that makes us who we are today.
My friend Chris often says, “Leaders are made daily, not in a day”, and I take inspiration in the idea that I can become a better person by taking action each day. The complement is true also, though: We didn’t become who we are overnight. There was a time in my past where I wasn’t proud of my background. Nothing could be farther from the case now, however. When we look at how far we’ve come, it gives us inspiration for how much further we have to go in our lives.
I helped organize a neighborhood reunion this past weekend. Many of my friends there, with whom I grew up, have stayed in the area of our childhood and it was a treat to see where people are in their lives and how our common past made or didn’t make a difference in them. It was also a wonderful reminder that we take with us every experience and can use that to form bonds with others. There are certain commonalities — the importance of family, the desire to improve our situation, the importance of some faith — that transcend the socioeconomic shorthand on which we rely to describe others.
I’ve learned that when I meet someone new, one of the fastest ways to form a bond with that person is to ask about his or her background. Just last week, I met someone in a fairly formal setting but quickly found a level of comfort by finding out a little about her upbringing. In doing so, I gained not just an associate but a friend.
We cannot grow tall without deep roots. By the time of our adulthood, those roots are already established. Our roots give us a solid foundation on which to grow, and by recognizing the life-giving importance of the roots of others, we affirm not only what they *do*, but who they *are*.