How To Bridge the Divide and Improve Understanding

You’re tired and weary. Political discussions tend to disgust you more than anything. You’ve moved from “why can’t we all just get along?” to “why bother?”. You’re not alone.

Most of us are feeling the weight of disgust and disappointment with politics these days.

The political climate has gone from seasonally heated to perpetually disappointing. What we could once rely on as a temporary dose of election season ugliness, has become a daily drip of negativity and discord.

I started the Food For Thought community based on a belief that beneath all the political posturing and misunderstanding that makes talking politics with people of other persuasions so difficult, there was a deep desire to connect with others and feel understood. I still believe that.

But it’s been difficult. The climate of communication has been abusive, divisive, and outright dysfunctional. I’ve spent a lot of time in the “why bother?” camp, and only recently been reminded why.

Today was one of those days.

I am on the heels of our first Food For Thought dinner party since moving back to the States. Typically, we pick a topic, prep for a week or two, and then get together to eat and talk. But this time we decided to base the dinner topic off of the book Strangers In Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild.

With my busy schedule I wasn’t sure I would be able to complete it, but thanks to Audible, I did. And I’m glad I did. The hope that seemed so distant and foreign to me has returned. Reading this book reminded me that if people do the work to gain understanding, they can find common ground and build a better foundation for humanity.

And that’s what we all want, right?

Take, for example, the new beer ad from Heineken that’s gone viral. It’s gone viral precisely because it strikes at the heart of this desire.

Those of us who love it, love it because it captures the essence of humanity and our desire to set aside boxes and connect with one another.

But I wonder, for all of the love we feel when we watch it, do we realize that these are real people responding to one another. Given the opportunity, would we be willing to do the same?

If you’re like me, and the division in this nation grieves you, are you willing to take an active role in changing the climate? Are you prepared to collaborate with others and build the proverbial furniture?

Will you choose to stay and have that beer in the end?

We need one another, and I firmly believe that if we can filter the noise, partisanship, and talking points, we will gain insight and empathy and conquer even greater tasks than Ikea furniture instructions together.

From The Archives: The Illusion of Intimacy

I’ve noticed a theme in many stories shared on social media lately. I was deeply touched by The Innovation of Loneliness; a short video which explores the changes in the formation of our social circles and communities as we become more “connected.” I’ve also watched a few that explore how women’s self-perception is being impacted by constant comparison with photoshopped “beauty.” Most notable are the number of stories about disconnecting from technology to connect more fully with life and those around us.

I’ve been contemplating my own loneliness, especially since becoming a mom. I’ve wondered if it’s a natural part of staying home with my kids. Am I really cut out for motherhood? Or am I just too selfish? I’ve also wondered if the disconnection I’ve felt upon my move back to the U.S. is due mostly to moving back into the same old when I am nowhere near the same old. Perhaps I’ve just entered into a dramatically changed place? My absence and re-entry into the US have, after all, coincided with the immense growth in popularity of Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. Questions give birth to more questions.

I am sure of a few things though. While social media is designed to connect, its natural consequence is further alienation from one another. While keeping up with friends and family through Facebook can be an excellent way to stay “connected” from a distance; it is not a replacement for the relationship.

If I haven’t called you, spoken to you, or sent you an email of a more personal nature- I can’t expect you to know or feel tended to on a relational level. It’s just reality. Conversely, when I speak with someone I haven’t heard from in a while and realize they keep up with me through Facebook; and may even have a decent grasp on the recent goings on in my life- it gives me great pause. Suddenly, someone I didn’t consider to be part of my inner circle seems like they should be. After all, they know what I ate for dinner yesterday, the cute thing one of my kids said to me that morning, or my thoughts on the day in general. It feels strange, out-of-body, and adulterous.

Adulterous may seem like a strange descriptive, but it best describes my sentiment in these moments. It’s as if there is this potential relationship being cheated on. A relationship that could exist, but won’t because I’ve settled for cheap and quick hook ups in the form of Facebook posts, tweets and so on.

I’ve settled for surface when I could have commitment. I’ve chosen relationships of convenience and ease that take place on my terms; as opposed to the messy and challenging relationships that happen in real time. I prefer airbrushed and dressed up in place of real and wrinkled. Intelligence and quick wit win out over thoughtfulness and pause.

Human relationships are messy and flawed. Frustration and challenge entwine with beauty and creativity in the bonds we form when we walk side by side. There is a dignity within the wrestling of relationship. We are known. We are accepted. We are stretched and grown. We are challenged and encouraged. Our lives are spoken into in meaningful ways, and we are given opportunities to speak into others lives similarly. We are held to a greater responsibility relationally. When someone is sitting across from us in our living room or at a table in a café- we can’t simply unfriend them or block them from our feed.

Is it any coincidence that as we become more “connected” through social media- we actually feel less connected, less accepted, and less cared for? We yearn for beauty, creativity, and understanding but report feeling less and less of these things with each passing day.

Perhaps it’s time to do something different.

Set down the tablet or phone (after reading this of course). Walk away from the screen in front of you and do something scary. Call someone you’ve intended to call for a long time. Make plans to get together with a friend. Invite people into your home for a meal. Throw aside your reservations, fears, insecurities, and excuses. Make the change. Shift the paradigm. Reach out and touch someone 😉

Human Trafficking and How You Can Help

It’s human trafficking awareness month people! You know what that means? It means we talk about and spotlight human trafficking as much as possible without exhausting the whole lot of you. One of the most common questions people ask is “what can I do to help?” I know it’s a big and ugly and oftentimes overwhelming reality to tackle but fret not. There are loads of amazing organizations doing a lot of truly wonderful things. And the good news is- they make it easy to help! I will dedicate several pieces this month to the topic, but today’s is brought to you by my fellow advocate and talented blogger Jessica Volke LaPinta. It’s a great guide with tangible things you can do to right now to make a difference in this fight.  Click on the link below:

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Election Day Lessons: Why I Love My Flawed Republic

For those of you who don’t know, we were living in Shanghai for the last year and returned to the U.S 3 short weeks ago. After traveling through Europe for close to six weeks, we repatriated to our home in Detroit. I’ve spent the last 3 weeks balancing the mighty tasks of unpacking 168 boxes, purging all of our worldly possessions, being a parent and spouse, and attempting to feel like a normal human being. Needless to say, I haven’t had the time to sit and write.

In the wake of a Facebook post I wrote, my husband reminded me that I do have a blog and that instead of “wasting” my thoughts on Facebook, I should perhaps approach this as a Naked Writing Post.

So here it is. These are my unedited thoughts on my own election day dread turned excitement.

I have been dreading this day. And when I say dreading, I mean I wish I had been able to stay out of the country a little longer and vote by absentee ballot. The last few days on social media have been especially painful. The hopeful outlook I’ve held regarding a human beings ability to discern truth and maintain a level of integrity have all but vanished.

I awoke this morning, feeling the weight of duty pressing in. I’ve never been less enthusiastic about voting. The once passionate political geek in me appeared to be all but snuffed out.

We left for school, and as we passed by several polling places, an almost giddy excitement came over me. I had to suppress an urge to yell out the window and say “you go!” as I looked at lines emerging from buildings.

The polling places are teeming with voters. The lines are full of people of all ages, races, economic backgrounds, and religions. I’m standing among a sea of people with amazing stories. There are individuals in line who can trace their family back several generations in the U.S. and have voted in the last 15 elections. There are also people who gave up their citizenship to become American’s a short time ago and are voting for the very first time.

As I thought about these things, it occurred to me just how amazing this all is- this flawed republic of ours. I couldn’t help but reflect on all of the sacrifice that went into creating this nation, and everything that has been fought for to get us to this point.

To think that my right to vote as a white woman was fought for and secured less than 100 years ago is surreal. And as I stand in this space with my black neighbors I am humbled by the realization that they only secured the right to freely and safely exercise the right to vote 51 years ago!

Guys, I am standing with men and women who were not able to vote with their white peers without fear of beating and death, and people who marched during the civil rights era. These people know the weight of what went into securing this right but now stand shoulder to shoulder with individuals of all races casting their votes.

It is a sobering and breathtaking thing to contemplate.

We have come so far in this nation, and while there is much work to be done- this circus will end, and we will soon have a new president-elect. As much as the media, the pundits, and the political machine has taken the wind out of us and made us feel hopeless and divided- let’s not lose sight of who we are, where we’ve come from and where we can go.


The Gift of Presence

I find myself in that place again. That place where my life is packed into boxes, and I’m trying desperately to navigate the pains of saying goodbye to the place I call home and the people I consider among my tribe and family.

As an expat, it’s easy to become disillusioned and hardened by the pain of constant goodbyes. It’s tempting to distance and disengage ourselves to protect and cope.

But I decided a while ago, that the only way I would live well within this expat nomad life of mine, was by being intentionally present. And that meant I would approach the place I lived and the people with whom I interacted with an openness and hunger that wouldn’t leave space for regret when it was time to move on.

It also meant I wouldn’t put any prerequisites on meeting and getting to know people; that there would be no rules regarding who I’d invest in, and that there would be no minimum stay requirements.

I was all in.

But this also meant that the risk of loss would be greater. Despite the pain, I have found a deeper and more profound purpose in living fully in the moment, in developing and cultivating relationships with the people where I am, and in embracing loss as part of joyful living.

I’d be lying if I said this was an easy path. It’s not. It’s fraught with deeper mourning and a greater awareness of what I’m leaving. But it is also full of more profound friendship, fuller experience, and greater joy.

The risk of pain involved in saying goodbye to the people and places we have deeply connected with is great, but the loss of never connecting is greater.

And to me, that is the greatest loss of all.

I will miss Shanghai on many levels. I will miss the people, my tribe, my work, and the life I lived while here. But I have no regrets. I don’t wish I’d been a little less connected or vulnerable or invested. To me, the far greater loss would have been missing the opportunity to meet and connect with so many wonderful and exciting people and places.

So while I wade through this transition time and say my goodbyes, gratitude overwhelms me. I am grateful for the time I’ve had, the people I’ve loved, and the person I’ve become because of it all.

One More Ride

Every time I ride my scooter, I feel free and alive and part of something more.

I’m just like everyone else when I’m out there in the midst of it all. The chaos, the fumes, the people, the near misses. Being out there on the road brings me closer to this place. I am rarely more aware of my mortality and life in these moments, and it is a unique kind of bliss.

When I came to China the first time, I managed not to get on a bicycle let alone a motorized vehicle. I was young and more full of fear and hesitation.

My how things change.

And now I’m leaving again, and I have a whole host of emotions. I’m going to miss this place no doubt. I had just settled in. I have friends I adore, a life I enjoy, work that’s fulfilling, and a scooter.

And it’s this damn scooter that is hard for me to let go of. It was the first sign and symbol of something that really changed for me- a step of bravery, a release of fear, and an embracing of a culture.

And now I am leaving it all.

It’s selfish really. I know I am blessed. And I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m richer for having lived here a second time. My heart is fuller for meeting the people I have met. I am forever and more profoundly changed by this year in China that I allowed myself to be during the previous assignment in its close to five-year span.

So tomorrow, I will go for one final spin on my scooter before I hand it off to its new owner. And like every time before, I will weave in and out of the harmonious chaos marveling at what a wonderful and unique experience I have had the privilege of taking part in.

The Ranch (The Naked Writing Project Guest Post)

It was right around the summer of 1980 and I was about 9 years old. Like every kid, I was looking for something to do to fill my days now that school would be ending for the year. My mother was a full-time working single mom to two and a part-time alcoholic so it meant she would never be around and it was mostly up to me to fill the time. We lived in a small house in the city. There were two apartments on the second story of the house. They had a separate entrance and it was prime people watching for my brother and I to see who was making their way up and down the stairs. The house was bustling with noisy footsteps above, the distant din of voices, music being played, and a healthy infestation of cockroaches. We were keenly aware of the contents of a government food “basket” but we were too young to understand just how on the brink of poverty our family teetered.

We hadn’t lived in the neighborhood that long and we were “that one” family on the block at best; dirty kids, drunken fights at 3 am and an unsavory cast of characters hanging around. Needless to say, I wasn’t overflowing in the friend department.  My mom was married to a nice enough guy but he came with his own laundry list of personal problems so he often didn’t hold down steady work. I recall that at some point in time he bought a tow truck. In the winter he would do tow runs for money and in the summer he mostly laid asphalt but for two summers he took a job as a “ranch hand.” What that essentially entailed was caring for the race horses that they owned. After much begging, and the realization that I would be alone most of the days, he allowed me to come to work with him.

I have no idea how far away this ranch was. We would leave so early in the morning that most of the ride involved me slipping in and out of consciousness as 6 am is an ungodly hour for a human of any age. Even though things often feel exaggerated as a child, it felt really far. I remember the winding dirt roads, the dewy fields of agriculture, and the globs of fluffy white pollen that would eventually dance their way through the open truck windows. The air smelled crisp, bursting with the scents of nature.  After a few twist and turns of the last dirt road…there it was! This spectacularly large, white farm house.  This was the type of house that I had only seen on T.V. I was reminded by Wade, my mom’s husband, that we were there as hired hands. Even as mixed up and crazy as my family was manners were of the utmost importance. Go figure.

The family was nice. While Wade spoke to them I looked past them all to survey the spectacle of wealthy people. The furniture, carpet, everything, it was all just lovely. I remember feeling like I shouldn’t be there and I never wanted to leave all in the same thought. I deduced by some toys scattered around that they probably had kids but I didn’t dare ask. For the first few weeks I worked out in the barn. Frankly, it was fun. The horses were all pretty gentle and the tasks I had involved things like changing their water, bringing them food, brushing them, and cleaning out the stalls. However on a particularly hot day the wife asked if I wanted to come in to cool off with some lemonade in the air conditioning. I was a kid so I would have accepted the offer of lemonade on the surface of the sun! Sitting in their fancy kitchen, I had questions that I dare not ask. I mean after weeks of working there I still hadn’t seen any kids. Even in my 9/10 year old brain I knew something wasn’t right. It’s summer! Shouldn’t there be kids running around outside playing? After my lemonade she asked if I wanted to stay in and play with their son who, “is about your age,” I was slightly disappointed that it was a boy but was happy to have some fun. As I walked down the hallway to his room it started to smell slightly medicinal. She started to gently tell me that her son had MS. I think she could tell by my blank stare that I had no idea what she was talking about. Trying to break it down in simple terms she said, “he can’t walk and play like the other kids but loves to have company.” I was worried about what I just got myself into but it was too late to back out. The next thing I knew we were standing in his doorway.

What I saw next was beyond overwhelming in a good but weird way. Firstly, the kid had every cool toy known to planet Earth! I mean the best of the best. The floor was just littered with what appeared to be all of Toys R Us. I also noticed this strange canvas type swinging basket attached to a small crane. Later he would tell me that it’s a lift for getting him out of bed and into his chair. He was a great kid. Charming, funny, eager to be friends, and again, he had the coolest toy collect EVER!! For whatever reason, even as I child, I was never put off by anyone that had different abilities. I took them as they were. His condition was of no interest to me after that initial battery of grossly inappropriate and invasive questions that all kids ask. We immediately got over the elephant in the room allowing us to move steadfast into playing. That was that. We were fast friends and I looked forward to going with Wade to work for the scent of dewy grass, the giant horses, and my new friend.

We spent the rest of that summer doing what all kids our age do. We watched movies, played with toys, and ate our way through the kitchen. I have never had so many pudding pops in my life! This was before the internet so we didn’t see each other through the fall, winter, and spring. As the days got longer and warmer, I could hardly wait to go back. We arrived back at his house and it was a break from my life. It was a break from being poor, neglected, and having another year of very few friends. It was an oasis from reality.

Once we arrived you could tell he had a really hard year. His body was being further ravaged by his disease and you could see the angst on his parents face. It was palpable. The air hung thick with worry and anxiety. But regardless we played. It’s fortunate that kids aren’t too concerned with limitations when it comes to play. The following summer we didn’t go back and Wade told me that he had died. As a kid, it was impossible to digest but as an adult….wow.

In my little, non-fully formed brain I had always equated money to happiness. That if we had money all of our problems would disappear. We would be happy. The bitter twist of the situation took me decades to digest. You see my family didn’t have money because of the disease of alcoholism (among others) that plagued it and they had all the money in world but couldn’t fix their son. In hindsight, it was one of the most crushing and devastating lessons I learned as a child. I knew first hand that money couldn’t buy what you need most in life.



Sonya is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur. She loves to cook great food, garden, travel, and has an unhealthy obsession with coffee. Sarcasm and biting humor are her basic modes of conversation. By day she runs a social media marketing company and fills her nights with family, friends, music, and writing.