Making Friends Who Disagree With You (is the healthiest thing in the world)

I did not expect this to be the most life-changing part of my semester in Washington DC.

When I first left, I thought the biggest impact would be academic–the Smithsonian, Library of Congress, Museum volunteering.  Either that, or my health would improve with the balance and space.  Or maybe I would meet a tall, dark, handsome American man and run away to Hawaii with a green card.

Not quite.

There was an academic impact, of course. A huge one.  And, yes, my spiritual, emotional and physical health is in decent form.  I am also currently acquainted with many tall/dark/handsome American menfolk (‘sup, gents?), though I certainly won’t be marrying into a green card anytime soon.

But none of these things are at the top of my report back to Canada.  Instead, I have been pouring out stories and joy regarding one overwhelming, unexpected gift: While in DC, I became close, close friends with people who I disagree with on almost everything.


Keep in mind, these weren’t just any people with differing opinions. These were people I genuinely liked.  A lot.  They were funny, smart, and kind.  We all really liked music.  We tried new foods, watched interesting documentaries, and reacted to the news. We even lived together.  We ate dinner together, every single night.

So I couldn’t look down on them. I couldn’t even consider it.  And when you can’t look down on someone who fundamentally disagrees with you, when you’re busy breaking bread, sharing your days, laughing about the weather…well.

Welcome to the most profound living situation I have ever had.

I met my first Bible Belt Republican friend soon after moving to DC.  We were watching TV.  She had an awesome Southern accent.  At first, we chatted politely about football, and cheese dip, and New York City–safe topics.

“So, what’s it like in Mississippi?” I asked.

“Well, you know, I’m from a small town, so we all get around in horses and buggies…”


“….no.” She laughed. I gritted my teeth and swallowed embarrassment. Yikes.  “What about Canada? Aren’t y’all, like, socialist?”

I laughed. She laughed. And just like that, any walls between us tumbled down.

She was fascinated, in every sense of the word, when I mentioned I was pro-choice.  (I know, I know.  When you first meet a self-proclaimed Conservative from Mississippi, talking about abortion is dangerous business. But we went there.)  She wanted to know more. Her curiosity fueled my curiosity, and we talked. We didn’t argue–we debated gently, very gently, but we never argued. We laughed at nuance, we self-deprecated, we trusted each other. And we liked each other. Before the conversation, and after the conversation.

To recap: Left-wing Canadian meets Bible Belt Republican. Discusses controversial political issues for over an hour. Walks away with a new friend.

We’re still friends.  We grabbed coffee before I left town, and we chatted away about personal things, travel, jobs…and, you know, marriage equality. We had both attended a rally on the subject earlier that month.  I had been a participant; She was working as a Conservative news journalist. We drained our drinks, played with ideas, and moved on to discussing our hometowns.

I miss her. I do.

More than that, though, I miss the girls I saw every. single. day.  I lived at a downtown Christian Woman’s Home.  The residence housed many girls with Bible College backgrounds, Conservative upbringings, Heritage Foundation affiliations, Baptist church memberships, and/or a “Raised Republican” shirt.

If you had told me 6 months ago that seeing this would make me smile, because it meant I had a good friend next to me, I would not have believed you.
If you had told me 6 months ago that seeing this would make me smile and remind me of a good friend, I would not have believed you.

They questioned me constantly. And I questioned them. Gun control, birth control, abortion (that one took three hours), pornography, drug laws, marriage equality, feminism, and a whole lotta theology. We really never knew what the other person believed, so we could never make assumptions. Our backgrounds were just too different.  In almost every conversation, I had to assume the person I was talking to disagreed with me.  And in almost every conversation, I was hungry to find out why.

This might sound frustrating, but it wasn’t frustrating with them. It was fun. It was loving and accountable and we laughed a lot.

What it came down to was this: We questioned each others’ perceptions and ideas, but we never questioned each others’ integrity.  We debated (gently, gently), but we never sought to change the other person’s mind.

Even finding out that this was possible changed my life.

It’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of talking to people who agree with you, and carelessly demeaning those who don’t.  But the problem with people who share a similar perspective is that they can assume that you agree with them on everything. So you start to. You pat each other on the back, you make assumptions, you submit to ideologies.

I know I’ve been guilty of this.

In DC, things got more interesting.  Things got more grey.  We could bend and defend where needed; we built compassion, we got offended, we saw irony. These are all important things, I promise.

Here’s a great TED Talk that discusses the “filter bubbles” keeping us from diverse opinions online:


When I first saw this video, it didn’t bother me much. But that was before DC.  Now, it scares me pretty desperately. Diverse opinions matter.  Understanding where people are coming from matters.

We care a lot about “Freedom of Speech,” which is great, but it’s easy to forget that with Freedom of Speech comes the Freedom to Listen.

We have the freedom to choose who and what we expose ourselves to.  It really is up to us. If we want, we can only hang out with people who echo our own sentiments. We can read only one column, we can confine ourselves to a clearly biased news network, we can spit on people protesting something with which we disagree. We can restrict our friendships to our own parties or churches.

But man, that seems like an awful waste of our Freedom to Listen. Just like only talking with people “on your side” of an issue is an awful waste of your Freedom of Speech.

We may not have time to give everyone a soapbox second.  And perhaps we should hold fundamental values. But we should also always have time for friendship, for talking to people, for humanizing those outside of our own bubble. And we should always be willing to disagree, learn…and to laugh about it.

An Unauthorized Guide to (Sucking at) Saying Goodbye


I guess this is the part where I reflect on the last four months.

This is gonna get weird, friends.  This is the “excited to go, but sad to leave” part.  The part where I pull out my uncomfortable cop-out response to “Are you ever coming back?”, and you prepare to dodge my inevitable “Are you ever going to come visit me in Canada?”

Maybe. Someday. Who-the-bleep-knows, right? Hah. Hah. Hah.

On “goodbye” weekend, I am queen of the awkward laugh.

I can’t seem to get it quite right. Yesterday, I parted ways with a dear coworker by saying: “Have a good one! And by ‘one,’ I mean, like, life!”

…that sounded exactly as awkward out loud as it did in your head.

He responded with a lovely speech about how great it’s been, how I’ll be missed, how his door is always open.  I looked at the ground and said something stupid like “Teehee, gee, thanks. Don’t know why I would ever be down there, but hey, you never know.”

I could’ve just said “Ditto!” and smiled.  I could’ve mentioned “I’ll miss you, too, dude.” Or found some way to explain how epic my time with these co-workers had been, how much I care about them, how these four months have genuinely changed my life.

But I did none of that.  I probably won’t even stay in touch (empty promises 1; Shauna 0).  I want to, but I don’t really know what “stay in touch” even means.

Another friend, who evidently sucks less than I do, tried to strike up a meaningful closing conversation over dinner:

“So, where do you think you’ll be in five years?”

“Pregnant and sad.”

What kind of response is that? [I wondered. As I said it. Out loud. I didn’t even miss a beat, you guys.]

So begins a long string of goodbyes.  I’m waiting for a few of them, though I don’t doubt for a moment they will be just as strange. And since I finally, finally got my camera working, the strangeness is being recorded.

This goes into the category of "things that make goodbyes harder."
This goes in the category of “things that warm my heart…and make goodbyes WAY harder.”

A-and, like clockwork, Expedia just emailed me a reminder of my flight. At the same time, my friend Niki messaged me to make plans for Tuesday–Tuesday!  Tonight, I’m going to clumsily follow a “Lincoln Assassination” walking tour, the second of two attempts to get my tourist on via DC by Foot before I leave the city on Monday.


What game are you playing, Time? 

On Fear, Love, and Bombs in Boston.

“A bomb just went off at the Boston Marathon, guys.”

My boss shared the news as he passed through the office. To be honest, I thought it was just another gnarly music term.  A strange band name.  A performance that…bombed?  Or was “the bomb”?  Or something else that I’m just not hip enough to get?

I work in the music industry, see.  I didn’t think there was a show going down in Boston, but figured that someone bringing up a new band was a lot more likely than an actual bomb going off at the Boston Marathon.

I was wrong.

It didn’t take long to figure out what happened. I streamed the live coverage as my mind combed through the usual comforts: Pay attention to the helpers.  Thank goodness this isn’t government-sponsored violence.  Look at those service men and women helping to clear the streets.  I’m glad stuff like this is rare enough to demand such outrage.  #PrayforBoston is trending on twitter.  The love outweighs the hate.  The extreme response shows how safe we normally are.

And, most selfishly (but genuinely): Glad I don’t know anyone in Boston. 

Optimistic, yes, but none of this was particularly comforting at the time.  Although my immediate reaction was overwhelming uncertainty (“How do I emotionally respond to this?”), a quick Google search of Washington DC brought it closer to home.  Sirens and SWAT teams were screaming down the streets, or so Twitter hyperbolically reported.  Pennsylvania Avenue was shut down. I had my first run in with the term “Heightened Terror Alert.”  It was business as usual in my office, but the word “Terror” tends to evoke…well, the feeling of terror.  There was “standard procedure” going on a few blocks away. In the wake of a bombing, “standard procedure” in the capital can look a little frightening.

DC in general has been a little frightening, at least for me.  The threats from North Korea successfully increased my heart rate on more than one occasion last month. I walked past a policeman carrying a massive gun today, and sped up in spite of myself.  I’m still getting used to the intensity of security guards on the way into museums.  The obvious necessity and fragility of a defense presence makes my stomach turn—especially when it’s not always enough to keep people safe.

Perhaps my background is a bit too docile to keep up with the high-security scene.  I watch action movies and kick-ass Terantino flicks like it’s my job, but the reality is that I’ve never even touched a glitter bomb.  I’ve never so much as shot a paintball gun.  I jump at the word “BOO!”, you guys. If we watch a horror movie together, I will clutch onto you like a leech.  And violence—real violence—is disturbing foreign territory to me.  (I’m very lucky for this, I know.)

It’s surprising that, spooked little horse that I am, I responded to the Boston Marathon Bombings with so much resolve.  But I did.  A lot of us did.  We said a prayer, called our mothers, and kept on going.

At dinner last night, a friend shared how scared she was coming home from work.  The bombing brutality was tumbling through her brain, and the enclosed and busy Metro was cause for concern.  Fair enough, I figured.  But that wasn’t what I said. Instead, like an overzealous talk-show host, I found myself telling her “I feel you, but…we can’t let the terror to get the best of us.  Because if it does, then “they” win. And “they” can’t win. People who want to hurt other people can’t win.  Fear can’t win.”

I’m sure I was much less articulate, but that was the sentiment.  My friends, despite our usual political and ideological differences, nodded in rare approval. She agreed, too. You can’t psychologically torture a whole country, can you?  Let’s not make it so easy.

Events like the Boston Marathon bombings will undoubtedly disrupt our ideas of humanity, life, security, and business-as-usual.  The intense response here in DC reminded me that while this country (and its cities) are magnificent, even they are vulnerable–because everything and everyone is vulnerable, no matter what.

My raised-by-Disney heart fears the “bad guys” and cheers for “good guys.”  It always will. But my adult heart, ridden with reality-checks, is beating in time with the rest of the so-called “normal people.”  The scared but proud people—people with good sides, and with not-so-good sides, but with families and fates and feeling hearts.  Folks who are mostly not okay with people hurting other people.

The fact that this is my definition of “normal” gives me hope. The fact that this bombing does not seem “normal” gives me hope.

We are fragile, mortal, reactive, aware, sensitive—but we should not be afraid.  

The People Who I Know (But Don’t Really Know).

There are many, many people who I know (but don’t really know).   I live in an all-girls residence near Capitol Hill, and I work in an office, so I suppose that is to be expected.

Still, my (non)relationships with these people are very interesting to me.

There are certain people who work in my office .  We pass each other in the corridors.  We say hi. We exchange the occasional nod/smile of recognition while in line for lunch or coffee. Yes, yes, I should talk to them; one, that’s how networking works, and two, when I finally strike up a conversation, I learn the most interesting things.  Well, either that, or we swap stories about the weather.

…usually, we just swap stories about the weather.

There’s a girl who sometimes sits at my usual dinner table.  I think she goes to law school. We’ve laughed together a few times. I don’t know her name.  I don’t know where she’s from. When she’s gone, I will notice–but will probably never get a chance to say “bye.”

There’s a girl whose room is next to mine. I know she hears me playing guitar for hours every day.  I wonder if that’s annoying. It’s annoying for me when she sings to herself, at least sometimes.  She has a beautiful voice, and I like it during the day, but…show tunes at 11:30 pm? Really?

(We should probably jam together, I know, but I don’t know who she is.  I couldn’t even point her out in a line up. Not unless everyone in that line up belted out “I Dreamed a Dream.”)


My relationships in DC are all real, all the time. I know people insofar as the roles they play in my life.  No Facebook friendships, save for a few girlfriends and fellow interns.  Only a few names.  Phone numbers exchanged if we’re meeting up later, and even then, my phone isn’t texting properly these days.

What are “friends,” then?  I don’t know.  Maybe the “friend” title belongs to my temporary confidants, the people who know me by name, who visit museums with me, who tease me about being Canadian.  Maybe I could stretch it to include the faces of people who simply recognize me, and I them.  Or even those who share humanity with me in any way, however briefly: anything ranging from a split-second smile, to a night of TV in the common room, to a handshake and the words ‘Peace’ at church. Who says friendship has to last more than a few seconds?

“People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”

Let’s add on to that pretty little cliche, shall we?  People also come into your life just to laugh with you when you awkwardly trip up the stairs.  Or to silently inspire your next haircut.  Or to just be attractive.  Or to be intriguing.  Or to remind you that you need, need, need to come up with better ice breaker lines.

And that’s the entire role some people play in my life. You’re real pretty, sir. I am officially self-conscious. Have a nice day.

Where does the “friend” title come in?  To be sure, it’s some point after two people acknowledge each other. Usually a long while after. “Friendship” usually refers to four hour bonding conversations, late nights, phone calls, inside jokes.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a relationship (however small and one-sided) with the voice I hear through my bedroom wall, or the girl at the dinner table, or my more mysterious co-workers.  For some reason, I know who certain people are.  And if that sounds creepy to you, well, there are definitely people I have never “met” who know who I am.

Example A:  Last summer, while walking through Major’s Hill park, I made eye contact with some guy walking by. He had a ratty homeless look, though not in an overly scary way. He was carrying half a set of crutches, limping just a little bit.  When he saw me, his face lit up.

“Hey! Hey, it’s you! Good to see you!”

“H…hi!” I greeted him pretty warmly, hoping I would somehow remember who he was.

We both kept walking, but as he passed by he added: “Your hair looks different, did you cut it? It looks lighter too. You must’ve redone your highlights. Looks really good.”

He was right. My hair was straightened, with bangs carved in just over the weekend. The colour comment was affirmative too; between sunlight and the right shampoo, my blonde highlights had strengthened majorly.

Who was this guy?  Still. No. Clue.   But no, no, I wasn’t creeped out by it.  I think it’s far more natural to notice someone who hangs around the same area as you to than it is to have “Facebook friends,” really.  This man recognized me, whether I recognized him or not, because we lived in the same spot. Because I worked in the Byward Market, and the Market was clearly his ‘hood.  Because he liked my hair, and he noticed when it changed. And that’s nice. In a way, that should be totally normal.

These Washington DC “relationships” feel totally normal, too.  Here, I have a limited supply of four hour bonding conversations, late nights, phone calls, and inside jokes.  But I sure have a lot of minute-long “friendships.” I have a lot of people who I know (but don’t really know).

And if they get a hair cut? Yeah.

I will probably notice.

– – –

Why I Dyed My Hair Brown…Then Lied About It
Why I Dyed My Hair Brown…Then Lied About It
How My Hard Drive Crash Restored My Faith in Humanity
How My Hard Drive Crash Restored My Faith in Humanity
The Truth About Awareness
The Truth About Awareness

Dear America: Sorry about that first impression. You’re actually kinda cute.

My first day in a new place is always ridiculously stereotypical.  We’re talking caricature-worthy.  Maybe this is normal, you know, some twisted form of beginners luck.  Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a curse I’ve been given…by a God whose sense of humour is borderline racist, apparently.

It never fails.  My first day in France was so full of cheese and snobbery and nudity, I almost fondue’d myself (for lack of a better term).  After only a few hours in Cuba, all I could think was “Well, you guys seem awfully desperate for tips and full of cigars…”.  And during my first day living in Ottawa, EVERYONE seemed to be talking politics–I even overheard the penniless men outside of the homeless shelter discussing the Harper agenda.

It’s not that these stereotypes aren’t real.  They definitely exist outside of day 1. France has cheese. Cuba has cigars. Ottawa has politics. Never, though, is anything actually at the level it seems on the first day.  Upon arrival anywhere, I am immediately thrust into what feels like a South Park episode.  I go on to realize my first day was just a bad “So a guy walks into a bar…” joke.

Naturally, this can give me a nasty case of “get me out of here!”.  After that cursed first day, I can’t help but think ‘Canadian stereotypes? I can handle those.  Let’s do that instead.’   I can rock a poutine coma, an over-apologetic neighbor, or a morning spent shoveling the driveway (eh?).  Let’s face it, Canadians: our stereotypes are pretty much adorable.

Apparently, this is my definition of “adorable.” Hmm. May need to give that one a little more thought…

This brings me to my current situation: ‘Merica.

American stereotypes are not quite so playful. There are some pretty scary -isms lying around: American exceptionalism, racism, and lets-all-get-guns-ism to name a few.  I’m not trying to attack the United States, which has been so very welcoming to me so far.  I’m not trying to oversimplify or judge, either. But whenever I get talked at by Glen Beck, or I read an American history book which refuses to admit to losing any war ever, I pack away a few pre-concieved notions. And, yes, I have read my share of scary articles on health care, teen pregnancy, religion, literacy, obesity, bad nose jobs, and worse attitudes.

To be clear, when I crossed the border and moved to the US capital, I didn’t expect to come face-to-face with all the scary -isms. I didn’t desire or even consider that Fox News incarnate might be everywhere, least of all in Democratic DC. I assumed it was going to be like Canada, just a bit warmer and with more sugary cereal options.  And it is, or so I have come to realize after a few days. But after my first day? Hah.

Hah. Hah. Hah.

Let’s review how my first 24 hours in the States went, shall we?

First, I went outside for a walk and was given reason to post THIS within the first five minutes:


Later that day, I saw a well-dressed white woman bully a black server at McDonalds, then inform her supervisor of the altercation in an attempt to get said server fired. Yeah, McDonalds–the only place I could find to eat when I got lost (well, that and a half-dozen Starbucks, I suppose).

I discussed Obama, gay marriage, and women’s rights with a young Baptist woman from Mississippi. She is definitely one of the loveliest people I have met so far (we ate dinner together today, actually).  Southern hospitality is the real deal–she makes a mean cheese/bacon dip, and I have huge respect for her love of College Football and Jesus.  But when I asked “Are all the stereotypes about [insert -ism here] true?” she responded with a resounding YES.  Her personal views, no surprise, often flew in the face of things my little Canadian self took for granted.  There was a pretty clear distaste for the words “Liberal” and “Socialist.”  My American stereotypes lived on.

On day one, there was no eye contact. No opening doors. Stars and stripes EVERYWHERE.  The people in suits were all White, while the people working minimum wage gigs were almost exclusively Black & Hispanic. The cheese on my burger tasted even LESS like cheese than Kraft Singles do (yes, it’s possible) and the Mountain Dew can was way too big.

Around 10 pm on the evening of day one (Sunday), I went down to the dining hall for a tea.  By that point, I was positive that all of my American-ism stereotypes were true.  I struck up a conversation with another girl in the kitchen (“Really, you got lost today too? Where?  Oh, I’m so glad it’s not just me!”).  I learned that she was an American Studies major from Philadelphia, and was immediately intrigued.  She had a lot to share.

I had a lot to ask.

We talked about education. About national identity, racism, systems, state power, patriotism, language, religion…everything.  One hour, two cups of tea and a number of revelations later, she turned the conversation to me: “So, do you think you could ever live here yourself?”

At that moment, after that day, I really did not know.  “I don’t think so,” I responded, “Unless I had a serious job opportunity.”

I understand how silly it was to declare this on day one.  Every….single….time I visit a new country, I learn and re-learn just how misleading first impressions can be (especially with the first day curse).  America has proved no different.

Let’s look at today.  Today, I received more random “Hello!” greetings, eye contact, unnecessary apologies, and good-natured jokes than would in the average Ottawa week (sorry, O-town.  You know I’m still your biggest fan.).  Today, I saw people of every kind of race working every kind of job (yes, it was still disproportionate, but I could swear it was a full divide on Sunday).  And while steering clear of fast food, I remembered the infamous Rideau Street McDonalds in Ottawa (see also: full-out brawl when a customer called a server the N-word).  I really don’t have the right to call out any MickeyDs conflict after that.

Tonight, I think I could live here (this is obviously a good thing, seeing as I currently do live here). I’m not saying that I would absolutely want to live here permanently. I like my poutine comas.  But the thought itself is not so terrifying, really–not with DC, at least.

And so, I officially declare that my first day full of -isms was invalid: at least in this part of the country, at least for now.  I can handle you, DC.  Sorry about that first impression. You’re actually kinda cute.

Welcome to America: Yes, I have gotten horribly lost. Already. Twice.

I didn’t check the time on Friday.  I slept in until 2 pm.  I’m pretty sure my daily Adventures involved trying to open a can of beans without a working can opener (this turned into a 15 minute, 3-person job) and rocking an hour-long game of Wizard.

If this is the “relaxing” thing all you kids have been talking about…I could get used to it.

We spent the day at a big cottage in the-middle-of-nowhere, Pennsylvania (est. never, really). These cottages, set up as retreats in the middle of state parks, cost about $80-100 a night and give you (in our case, at least) a monster of a house overlooking the lake. There was a full kitchen, beautiful wooden furniture, board games from the 80s, and (most importantly) this awesome lamp.

So, this is my selling feature. There's a reason I'm not a real estate agent. BUT ISN'T IT COOL?
So, this is my selling feature. I may not have future in real estate, BUT ISN’T IT COOL?

Frozen lakes are kind of boring to look at, but they’re definitely pretty.  I was really feeling the “peaceful” thing. I probably could have stayed there forever.

^nothing like that.

I think my parents were tempted to stay there, too, for fear of leaving if nothing else.  The drive in is currently being referred to as “Hell.”  “Hell” took us up and down steep mountains in a brutal snow fog.  For a good 30 minutes, my ears were popping (altitude problems) and my father was breathing out G-rated cuss words: FRIG.  FRICK. DANG. (Repeat).

Don’t worry, I evened the language score by referring to the cottage’s location as “a**-f**k nowhere”–which was totally allowed, because even though that phrase makes zero literal sense, it was (f**king) accurate.  Isolated was an understatement.  But I suppose that’s what gave the place so much charm once we arrived. (And yeah, yeah, I did just bleep out my own swear words on my own blog. Feeling dainty today.)

But Shauna! I thought you were going to DC to be a big strong, independent young professional! What’s with the stopover in a**-f**k nowhere? And why in the world are your parents in this story, risking their lives (slash being adorable)?

Well friends, it seems that where I come from, “Shauna’s moving to DC!” sounds a whole lot like “ROAD TRIP!!!”

I value my parents’ love of the family vacation much more now than I did back in the day.  This is mostly because “back in the day,” family road trips meant being strapped in the backseat with 3 dudes for an 8-hour showdown over whose turn it was with the Nintendo DS (“I don’t even want screens being used on this trip. This is ridiculous.” — Mom, every single time).  These days, the road trips are a “whoever wants to go, wherever we want to go” thing, and have more to do with taking a break from routine than corralling four kids. On Thursday, four of us (my parents, one of the middle brothers and I) packed into the car, crossed the border, shopped, chilled at a cottage, and generally burned time/midnight oil/gasoline until my moving day came.  January 5th.  The move in was quick and painless, which is something I have never been able to say before.  I was sad to see them go so soon, but it was amazing to have the company en route.

…and to have a day to relax, which I totally did, contrary to my usual curse of not being able to. I even wrote half of this blog post by hand in a notebook on the cottage couch, because it just felt like the right way to do it in a place like that.

Barefoot and everything. Kickin’ it old school.

Once I reached DC (yesterday), I wasted no time releasing my awkward self around town.  This is my first full day in the city, and I have already gotten horribly lost (Twice. I want you to look at a map of the lovely, grid-like DC and tell me if YOU could get lost twice.).  I have also already had a 3 hour political conversation with a Republican from Mississippi (we disagreed on most things, but we listened to each other and we both liked Football, so I think it worked out okay).  I also wore a t-shirt outside while everyone else had jackets on because it was 10 degrees and sunny and I’m Canadian, dammit.

With that, I think it’s fair to say: Welcome to America, folks!