Applying the lessons of Fun Day to all unfamiliar faces

More than 350 South Floridians with special needs visited the University of Miami campus on Feb. 3 for a daylong event full of activities geared toward bridging the gap between students and their buddies. Photo credit: Lena Mobin

If you were within five miles of campus on Feb. 3, you surely heard the jovial pandemonium of this year’s FunDay, UM’s one-of-a-kind service day that partners students with adults with disabilities from across Miami.

While the day may be for those adults, affectionately dubbed “buddies,” I find it’s typically much more transformative for the students who are unaccustomed to working with people with disabilities, particularly those participating for a club or for service hours for Greek Life.

Many college students spend their time swaddled within the security of their social circle. We like to spend time with those we feel most comfortable with and those most similar to us. We seek people in our clubs, classes and religious groups to befriend, thinking our chances of forming connections will be increased by the quantity of superficial similarities we share. However, FunDay has an incredible capacity to debunk this myth.

At one point during the event, my buddy approached a student who seemed intimidated, unable to predict the behavior of this unfamiliar person. My buddy put forth his hand for a fist pound. A wave of relief washed over the student as he reciprocated it.

The student saw that my buddy simply wanted to make a connection with him. They didn’t share an ethnicity, age, language or disability, but my buddy didn’t care. He just wanted to connect with someone.

As I watched people of every color, language and gender intermix and the boundaries melt away, I concluded that it’s time we take a page from the buddies.

If they have the space in their hearts for those different from them, why shouldn’t we?

While, of course, our admiration and friendships among those similar to us are entirely valid, we miss out on a potential goldmine by residing safely at home in our little bundle of familiar traits. Remaining open to all kinds of people can add incredible dimension to our lives.

And this pattern is a dichotomy. Those we loathe often bear the most similarities to us. Many of us recoil at the speech of our current president – conversational and rife with grammatical flaws – despite its familiarity and similarity to our own speech.

Bottom line: we are not the gold standard. We do not contain every good trait and are not void of every bad trait. If we assess people based on the extent to which they are carbon copies of ourselves, we will have a very colorless life. Instead, it is best to evaluate people holistically.

Love and hate are far more complex than commonalities and differences – all the more reason to go through life giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, not distancing ourselves from each other based on superficial characteristics but listening to our instincts to find our friends. Aspire to go through life ready to give each and every passerby a welcoming, hardy fist pound.

Dana Munro is a sophomore majoring in musical theater.