We May Even Become Friends


Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. —Maya Angelou

This week my day job involves interacting with my colleagues from 19 branch offices from around the globe. These people, some scientists, some marketers, some journalists, some younger, some older, have flown to Madison from PacAsia, South America and Europe. We meet in Madison, WI, in January to talk about aligning our efforts as we work to support the work of scientists around the globe.

When we sit down around a common table, we treat each other differently.
When we sit down around a common table, we treat each other differently.

We could have these meetings using video conferencing technology, and indeed throughout the year, we often do have such meetings. Emails and instant messages fly across cyberspace from continent to continent on a daily basis, but the yearly meeting where we all get together and interact face-to-face lends a whole new dimension to the work we do and how we do it.

Meeting one another and spending the afternoon at a painting bar sharing a meal, a blank canvas and acrylic paints brings out the humanity in all of us. We learn that our colleagues in France and in Switzerland also have young daughters who dress up like Elsa and sing “Let It Go” over and over and over and over and …well, you get the picture.

The sorrows and joys of our lives in Madison are the same sorrows and joys of those a world away. The things that make us smile and laugh are similar—and gathering around a table for conversation and a good meal is probably the single greatest team building experience a group of people can have. No technology, no matter how engaging or interactive, can replace that.

When we opened our international meeting this week, the early discussion centered on goals for the meeting and how we were going to measure our success at achieving those goals. That is important, bringing all these people together for a week-long meeting is expensive, and demonstrating the return on the investment is important. But one of the participants pointed out something absolutely critical about this meeting that cannot be measured:

“When I meet with my colleagues around the world and spend an afternoon painting with them and sit down to eat with them, I find myself treating them differently [sic ‘better’] when I work with them. We can’t measure that, but it’s so important to getting the best work done.”

She’s right.

And, it’s not just true of the global work place.  It’s true of any place.

When we meet with people and spend time with them and sit down to eat a meal with them or travel down the road with them, we find ourselves treating each other differently–with a little more respect and a little more humanity. And, that’s a good thing.

You don’t have to travel far. You just have to travel a little outside yourself.

Who knows, maybe you’ll even discover a new friend.

© 2016 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

Author: Michele

Michele Arduengo is a life science and medical writer by profession and a creative non-fiction writer by hobby. In addition to publishing Grits and Purls since 2008, Michele has published essays in Wisconsin Woman, Chicken Soup for the Soul and has a weekly column in her local newspaper.

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