As citizen of this global community, are we really doing all we can to make our fellow members feel welcome and engaged? Do people that have lived in Halifax for a few weeks feel just as welcome as those who have lived here their entire lives?
Each year, as September rolls around and the students return, the city goes through an awkward transformation of getting used to having a whole new group of people engaged in the city. While some university towns roll out the red carpet – excited that students with new ideas and fresh outlooks are back — Halifax isn’t there yet.
But it isn’t only the students we’ve been known to exclude, there are others. We are all guilty of judging others, those who live on the street, addicts, and people with criminal records.
We don’t accept those with weight issues, mental illness, physical disability and disease. We give these groups a badge of shame to wear when we stare at them awkwardly, treat them poorly, or make our city a place where they feel unwelcome.
Why do we do it? We would never treat someone differently that had diabetes, a nut allergy, or that was fighting cancer.
The difference between the two groups is understanding. We know what cancer is, we understand that someone with an anaphylactic allergy could die if we are careless, we understand that diabetes requires management of diet and often insulin.
But what do we know about mental illness, physical disabilities, and addictions? Likely not a lot, unless you have a friend or family member who fits into one of these groups. It’s the scariness of the unknown that has us pushing ourselves away from these individuals. These people aren’t like us, so we can’t relate.
So what can we do about it? We can start by talking about things we don’t understand with our neighbours, friends and family members.
We can visit the library or tour some sites on the Internet and find out a little more about a topic we don’t know much about.
We can stop ourselves next time we find ourselves judging someone, and ask – why are we doing this? We can invite everyone to be an active member of our community. Lastly, we can engage everyone to share their ideas and thoughts, and be a part of our community activities, because great ideas can come from anywhere we just need to open our minds to accept them.