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Before you read on, please do refrain from casting judgement at first glance. I ask that you don’t discredit if you may disagree. If a single sentence causes discomfort, I invite you to keep reading even if you think you know what is coming…because there is a good chance you may not have the full story just yet. Thank you for giving my opinion a chance.

My favorite type of common ground. I Photo: @digimil

Ever since I first stepped foot on a skateboard I realized what I really did was take a step onto common ground. From the moment I did that, I shared something special with people from all over the world no matter what their background. It’s something I’ve come to learn is a rarity in this life. While I’ve been fortunate to travel the world and meet people from very different lives than the one I lead, it’s clear that not everyone has that opportunity. Currently, we live in a chaotic time when there are those who would try to convince you that different is bad. That by isolating ourselves we are safer when in fact that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

While we may not live in an ideal world, I refuse to give up on the ideals that I hold in my heart.

I know some of you are thinking “how in the hell does riding a skateboard change your whole world?” Well, beyond looking at architecture differently, it has changed the way I interact with people altogether. Allow me to elaborate on that. Before skateboarding became the big thing it is today, it was an outcast activity. The number of those who skated were few, and subject to ridicule. As skateboarders, we stuck together. There was a brotherhood that if you skated, then you’re automatically friends and would look out for each other.

Posing for a photo with Qatari Police who weren’t bothered in the slightest by me skating this wallie spot right by them. I Photo: @NYSkateboarding

Minorities tend to be misunderstood because people fear the unknown. Fear leads to mechanisms of coping such as humor. We all love to laugh, even if it comes at others expense. (There’s a reason a man getting hit in the groin was always funny on America’s Funniest Home Videos and the tradition continues with shows like Tosh.0.) If left unchecked, that fear can become fearmongering. It helps to dehumanize people who are different from you. Things that would seem ordinarily cruel aren’t as hard to stomach because people allow stereotypes to take over. I remember when people used to think skateboarders were all slackers who listened to punk rock and smoked weed. While there are some that fit that description, it’s obviously not true for everyone. Now that skateboarding is popular, the ridicule has fallen off but that sentiment of brotherhood remains. If I go anywhere in the world I have something in common with a skateboarder despite their homeland, religion, politics, music preference or sexual orientation. I have an ice breaker for conversation, tricks that act as a show-and-tell for people who want to watch, and a reason for security guards to hate me. It served me well in places like Qatar where I learned many things from people I might have been afraid to approach had it not been for my skateboard being a catalyst for conversation.

I might have been afraid to approach had it not been for my skateboard being a catalyst for conversation.

Lately, it seems there’s a lot of anger and misunderstanding out there among us. It’s costing friendships and creating an even bigger divide. More than ever I see the need for people to find common ground. I see people attacking each other on social media and in real life. It leaves me trying to figure out how to share empathy and understanding. When we rush to judgement or close ourselves off to opportunity we immediately put ourselves at a disadvantage. Former Vice President Biden has said it’s appropriate to question another man’s judgment, but to not question what’s behind his decisions “because you simply don’t know his motives.”

Always behind a screen somehow these days I Photo: @digimil

As you read this from behind your screen you are guarded. You don’t have to engage with me and can pass judgement on my thoughts without any repercussions. The same goes for social media, where people feel free to share their thoughts without any regard for it’s impact on others. It serves as another catalyst for conversation, but instead of opening minds I feel like it’s making us more closed off than ever. The greatest irony of the internet is that a tool designed to connect the world has proven to be the strongest tool to divide it. When one man’s tweet can have a ripple effect impacting the entire world we must realize the caliber of the weapon that it truly can be.

it’s appropriate to question another man’s judgment, but to not question what’s behind his decisions “because you simply don’t know his motives.”

Lately, I’ve started to do what living everyday in New York City has trained me not to: I’ve been talking with strangers. I’ve been talking about taboo subjects like politics, race & religion. It’s been hard, and not always productive, but I’ve had some of the best conversations I can think of with people from different backgrounds in a long time. It’s refreshing. So as we move forward in these uncertain times I encourage you to talk with more people and be open minded.

BB with the sign that was given to him. He didn’t plan on joining the March but said when he passed he couldn’t help but get caught up and be involved. I Photo: @digimil

One last thing, never consider your viewpoint to be above someone else’s. Something I learned yesterday was that everything has consequences. The vast size of this country, and the world, means that our experiences are so different. Something that may be right for you isn’t necessarily a good thing for another person. Your action to help stand up for one person may cause a hardship for someone else. There can be no way to find an answer if we can’t find common ground first. When we find some things we agree on, suddenly those things we disagree on aren’t a reason to curse out one another but an issue we talk about and figure out together.

The greatest irony of the internet is that a tool designed to connect the world has proven to be the strongest tool to divide it.

We all have our own view of the world. Events, experiences, and our education develop how we see things and how we act. The day to day of someone who lives in one part of the world may directly contradict another’s way of life, that’s just how it is. Regardless of that, we all share things. What I’ve learned from people is that generally everyone wants to be safe, they want to laugh, smile, and make ends meet. People want to exist and coexist peacefully. I’ve learned there are bad people in the world, but the good outnumber the bad. I’ve learned that people can be shortsighted and often have a hard time thinking beyond their own life or those of their friends and loved ones. A good place to start would be to think “what if this was happening to me?” From there, we won’t solve all the problems but maybe that’s enough to cool our anger and slow the knee-jerk reactions that reasonable and effective solutions will replace the things that aren’t working. From there we can start to stand together on common ground. 

Pershing Square during the Women’s March I Photo: @digimil