Wednesday, July 13, 2011

White Spaces

by Project Interfaith guest blogger, Jennifer Formo

Last semester, I took a class on information design. I read a book by Daniel Pink called A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. In the book, Pink explains his experience with trying to draw a self-portrait in an amateur drawing class. He completely botches the drawing where everything ends up completely out of proportion and cartoonish. He talks about how the left brain recalls symbols from childhood of how to draw a face, whereas the right brain actually sees relationships and integrates those relationships into a whole. Therefore, by shutting off our left brain, we can access the right brain to accurately draw the face as we see it, not as we think it should be from memory. For example, Pink drew his eyes too high on his face. It threw off the whole face because the eyes were not correct in relation to the rest of the face. “By botching that one relationship, [he] distorted the entire picture” (133).

In today’s world, there are many stereotypes that have been attached to different races, ethnicities, cultures and religions. Our identities are completely ingrained in those labels. Sometimes they are self-imposed; other times they are thrust upon us by society because of the way we look, how we dress, or where we grow up. Identity is a funny thing because as we grow up we are encouraged to identify ourselves as female or male first. Then we discover talents and we become an athlete, a musician or a scholar. Eventually, society places us on a merry-go-round of labels: from single, married or divorced, to poor, middle class, or rich. But if we were to strip those labels away, our true identity is actually what is left, the part of us that cannot be defined or labeled. It is our true essence.

As I watch my daughter grow up, I see that people are beginning to compare her to me. They say how much she is like me. She is stubborn, strong-willed, and perfectionistic. She loves to dance and play sports. She even looks like me. Sometimes I even find myself secretly wanting her to follow dreams I never had time to pursue. Even in my predominantly white, middle-class, suburban community, her identity is already set because she is my daughter. But my daughter is her own person who challenges those stereotypes every day. She surprises me with her words, thoughts and actions. She deserves to set her own path and become who she wants to be. Her true essence is all her own.

September 11 is brought up often when we discuss religious stereotypes. Obviously, in this country, Muslims are put high on the list of those who are persecuted for their beliefs. But just as my daughter’s identity is not based on the fact that she is my daughter, a Muslim’s identity should not be based on their cultural background or their religious convictions. By botching that one relationship, formed by the evil acts of a few fanatical Muslims, the entire picture of the Muslim community was distorted. Stereotypes run rampant in all sectors of society, whether it’s with gays and lesbians, the black community, or a poor sector of a city. So how do we see beyond those boundaries and into the hearts of individuals?

When speaking of his self-portrait, Pink talks about white space. He defines this negative space as “the area between and around an image” (133). By learning how to see the white space within the image, we can see relationships more accurately.

When I think about my identity, I realize that few people know or understand my white spaces. They see the image, the picture I produce. They see where I go to church, what I do for a living, who I associate with on a regular basis. But most people don’t know what I truly believe and what is in my heart. Most people don’t know my fears, my personal triumphs and struggles, my obstacles in life, or the love I have for my family and friends. Those are the white spaces I am talking about. Understanding a person’s true identity requires an investment into knowing that person, listening to them speak, and a look beyond their exterior and into their hearts.

White space is constant, pure and untouched by variances. White space never changes. I believe that when we begin to see beyond the stereotypes of others and into their white spaces, we will find that we are all very similar. We have the same love for our families, we have similar fears and we all have a desire to be seen for who we truly are. We see the purity, the core of who we are. My challenge to you then is to look for the white spaces in others and begin to see the relationship between each other. Only then will we be able to break down the walls of stereotypes and prejudices and find common ground and a broader understanding of the world.

BIO: Jennifer Formo is a volunteer for Project Interfaith. She has contributed to the Development Committee, the Community Mosaic Video Project and the Speed Dialoguing event, Face to Faith. Jennifer makes her home in Blair, Nebraska along with her five-year-old daughter, Ashley.

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