Fri, 31 May 2024 Today's Paper

Change is Constant; Communication Should Be Too

2 April 2022 06:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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As I boarded the flight to New York from Sri Lanka in April 2021, I envisioned how my beloved NYC would look after the battering it took due to the pandemic.  I imagined         boarded-up shops, ubiquitous homelessness, unsafe subways; a NYC that harkened back to the 80s.  As I exited JFK Airport, I did so without my usual excitement, but instead with a newfound unease.

The void of many friends who fled the city during the outbreak, outdoor dining with heated lamps in outdoor igloos and the smell of marijuana seemingly everywhere (recreational cannabis is now legal in the Empire State), this was the new NYC normal.  Armed with my Excelsior Pass, a digital copy of my vaccine card, I began to explore again - restaurants, museums, plays, sporting events and restaurants city-wide. 

My covid-anxiety lessened, but I imbibed an anxiety of another sort.  In the fifteen months I had not visited NYC, so much had palpably transpired; the momentous change of an administration, Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate, to name a few.  There were new unwritten rules of language and despite my best efforts to keep abreast of all the new terminology, I was worried that I might have missed something; mansplaining, gaslighting, ableism, cisgender, clicktivistm, greenwashing, BoPo, there was an entire lexicon of words I was learning to comprehend and apply appropriately. 

Of course, it would never be my intention to hurt; I just might not have got completely up to speed and I did not want to unwittingly offend.  A few random examples of terms I’ve seen often used in South Asia which are becoming obsolete in NYC, “Master Bedroom” is now “Primary Bedroom.”  “Pregnant Women” is to be replaced with “Pregnant People,” so as to be inclusive to those who are non-binary and transgender.  As per contemporary gender-inclusivity norms, “Hi guys” should be replaced with, “Hi everyone or all.”  

Kids are becoming familiar with the concepts of “woke” and alternate personal pronouns; they are reading a whole new genre of more inclusive children’s literature, including the best-selling book, Antiracist Baby.  Some kindergarten classes mix paint colors as an exercise to help students identify their skin color.  At seven, children are learning about complex concepts such as stereotyping and the Asian minority myth.  
 
Children are sometimes asked to introduce themselves not only by their favorite tv show, sport and hobby, but also by race, ethnicity and nationality.  I didn’t ruminate over those terms until I was filling out college applications, but that was a different time.  Change is often admittedly profoundly uncomfortable but as JFK said, “Change is the law of life.  And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” 

News flash: the future looks a lot more complicated.  Avatars will now have ‘personal boundaries’ because of mounting sexual harassment complaints in the metaverse. Our learning curve is about to get a lot steeper.  

What happens is New York (or in the metaverse) cannot be taken as representative of what is happening across America.  That said, friends across the world have mentioned parallel social developments in their own countries, amplified through Facebook and Instagram.   

Sadly, the world has become a far more judgmental and punitive place. There is a palpable fear of being shamed, so some refrain from asking genuine clarifying questions, a lost opportunity and a true travesty, in my opinion.  

I have definitely returned to Sri Lanka with a more conscious approach to language and life.  Although we are introduced to many developments on social media (and often Netflix) in Colombo, these types of societal changes seem to arrive at a different pace in the subcontinent.  

I will have to do a delicate dance of cultural norms in both places, questioning and checking what feels right and true to me, while also using this important opportunity to drive difficult but necessary conversations.  

I hope that we can all be more patient and understanding with each other as we navigate polarizing political opinions, covid-19 sensitivities and this ever-evolving world.    
 

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