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Stepping Out of the Echo Chamber

Today I interviewed a girl who walked from Guatemala to Texas alone at 17 years old. She works 60 hours a week (Chipotle during the day, cleaning offices at night) and attends high school full time, with her sights set on becoming a doctor. When she answered my question about her work schedule with a what’s-the-big-deal smile, I forgot all the other questions I was going to ask. My mind went blank, as the ease of my day to day came into view.

The part of my job that I appreciate most is when it requires me to interact with people whose stories are different than my own. And in Loudoun County, Virginia, there are many different types of stories—and most vary from that of a Midwestern girl, oldest daughter of a pastor and teacher. Some stories are from those at the high end of the economic scale. They show horses, own planes and wineries, and have acre upon acre of beautiful countryside to call their own. And so many of them are kind, and loving, and generous. They give of their time, volunteering on painfully boring county committees and charity boards. And they open their wallets time and time again to support local schools, charities, hospitals, and one very appreciative newspaper staff.

Then there are stories lived out by people like the teenager I met today. She said she gets so frustrated when she hears her classmates, who don’t have to work two jobs to pay rent, say they don’t want to go to college. Yes, tuition may be covered by their parents, but they’re tired of school. What if they knew that their classmate was up half the night, cleaning the movie theater where they spend their Fridays? What if they knew that she saw it as an opportunity, a chance to live a different life than her mother, a single parent of eight fighting to survive in a dangerous Guatemalan neighborhood. Would they make the most of their opportunities?

Hearing stories unlike our own changes us. It puts into focus what we have. It nudges us to use our time, money, talents to lift up a neighbor. It quiets our judgement.

What can you do to interact with people whose stories are different than your own?

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