Oh, what a crazy weekend we’re about to enter. In light of this Friday, I’ve decided to share one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. Now, I don’t think this is about politics –– this is about my experience in the world as a seventeen-year-old, and a little bit of wisdom I’ve picked up from somebody who’s less like me than anybody I’ve ever met before.

His name is Joe and he’s from Texas. He speaks with a thick southern accent, was given his first gun for his eighth birthday, is more than a little misogynistic, and wants to join the army. Joe certainly isn’t your typical Wilton boy. Joe is the furthest you could possibly get from me –– a die-hard liberal from the northeast. A couple of days into our service trip in last summer, I was convinced that he was my worst nightmare, and I would avoid him.

That didn’t last. On the third day we got partnered up to paint a room together; the two of us alone in a room for eight hours. After an hour of silence, he spoke. “You can’t shut me out just because I’m a Republican. You know, it’s important to be uncomfortable sometimes.” The most meaningful, interesting, seven-hour conversation I’ve ever had, began with that challenge.

Joe told me of growing up with the Bible and guns in Dallas, where his mom runs an anti-abortion clinic and his dad owns a gun shop. I told him about my Reform Jewish, New England home of proud Hillary supporters. We didn’t shout at each other or argue, we just accepted and shared views; just as we weren’t looking to change each other –– just understand each other.

He was right: I can’t just ignore what makes me uncomfortable, or stay in a safe space forever. Thanks to Joe, I gained a new perspective on the world, that I would never have grasped unless we were put in that room together. I don’t agree with any of his views, but that’s okay. He has become one of my close friends, and we still joke about our rocky introduction. Joe taught me the importance of discomfort, in personal growth, and helped me see the world through a wider, clearer lens.

At a time like this, the most important thing we can do is listen. Believe me, I am by no means perfect myself. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m opinionated, I love to talk, and I always think I’m right. But I’m working on it. I know very well if I only talk to people who think like me I’ll never really learn anything. We simply cannot improve ourselves if we stay inside our own bubbles and refuse any beliefs that don’t align with our owns. As soon as we let go of our prejudices and open our minds to hear the other side, then we’ll start to move forward.


Julia Foodman is a senior at Wilton High School.  She shares this column with four classmates.