Last week’s “A Day Without a Woman” truly bothered me, as did last month’s “A Day Without Immigrants,” but I could not place why.
But as I pondered my new role as “The Grinch Who Stole ‘A Day Without’” on the train, a realization was knocked loose from the back of my mind: I really take issue with just one word: “without.”
For so many of our boardrooms and operating rooms, battalions and bylines, every day is a day without women. And immigrants. And people of color. And so many other groups who do not see their views or needs adequately represented anywhere from television shows to the halls of the US Congress.
More marches or threats of days “without” already underrepresented people will not change anything when we are already absent from the view of those who wield power in our nation. It is time to stop living without; let’s try a day with.
As a white suburban mom, I have too often retreated into my own opinions, my own experiences and my own life. For years, I have heard from social media, from colleagues and even from strangers on the metro that I don’t understand the struggles of people who don’t look like me, and there’s nothing I can do to change that.
While the vastness of the internet allows us to shut out news or opinions contradictory to our own worldviews, I couldn’t accept the fate of being trapped in my own perspective. So I tried something new: I shut up for a while and I listened. More than listening, I sought out authors and thinkers with experiences different from mine, like Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Luvvie Ajayi.
Politically Re-Active and the Moth Radio Hour became my new go-to podcasts, with each episode offering new takes on life in America. I carried $2 in my purse every other week to buy the latest issue of Street Sense, at least half of which is written by homeless or formerly homeless people. My internet browser lagged under the weight of so many open tabs with stories of surviving war and oppression from the Middle East to Middle America by journalists like Elspeth Dehnert, who is based in Jordan, and Lewis Wallace, a transgender radio journalist.
I simply acknowledged that I have already lived most of my life without a diverse set of voices, and I did not want to live that way anymore. My opinions on their works and their choices do not matter. My role is simply to listen, acknowledge and be aware of others as I navigate through life; to remember and consider them when I make choices that will affect traditionally dismissed groups, however incremental the change; to teach my daughter to do the same.
As a working woman, I call on board chairmen and executives: Dedicate more resources to recruitment and retention of diverse talent. Re-evaluate policies that affect women and their families. Spend a day with your workers and listen to their stories. Invest more in their educational and social potential and their work-life balance. It will pay you dividends.
As a subscriber, I call on our media: Responsibly diversify and verify the sources you elevate.
As a mother, I call on our schools: Reject any attempts to standardize a distilled narrative of history. Build flexibility into curricula that allow for the presentation of more diverse stories.
As a Christian, I call on our churches: Dispense with the politicization of the Gospel and remember that our duty to love one another is not bound by party, borders, religion, skin color, nor even upon lifestyle choices.
As a voter and a veteran, I call on our elected officials: Seek out dissenting opinions across your districts, your states, and across the aisle. Do not fear the challenge of listening and understanding; that is what we pay you to do, and it will make you a better representative “of the people.”
Most of all, I call on us all as citizens, as Americans, as humans: Let us recognize that when we exclude each other and ourselves, whether consciously or unconsciously, then we already live too many days “without.”
I say again, now is the time to live with.
By Eryn Sepp
Eryn Sepp formerly served in the Obama administration; she is now a manager at a Washington nonprofit, a US Army veteran and a homemaker from Gaithersburg, Maryland. She wrote this for the Baltimore Sun. -- Ed.