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Five verbs to get us through 2017

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The “Hearts in San Francisco” installation in Union Square in 2015 featured hundreds of Polaroids of San Franciscans, taken by San Franciscans — a message that still rings true in 2017. (Courtesy photo)
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I’m not a big believer in resolutions. Mostly, they’ve been a January obsession to be forgotten by the time March rolls around. Instead of resolutions, here are five verbs that outline a blueprint of how we ought to apply ourselves to nurturing the diversity of San Francisco.

ENGAGE

Our culture of individual achievement and independent thinking has been the driving force of excellence in San Francisco. Yet, at times, it makes sense to take a step back and realize that we are essentially social creatures and that isolation is the cesspool that breeds all kinds of social disorders, including depression.

Let’s make an effort to include individuals, groups, races and communities into our thoughts. Listen to people’s stories. Smile at the brown-eyed barista. Make eye contact with the “other” commuter on the bus. Remark about the amount of kale in another’s shopping cart. Talk to the Uber driver about the environment. Engage with people who don’t look the way we do; think the way we do.

Recently, I met a wonderfully diverse group of people from all over the world at a yoga retreat in India. One of them, a retired Navy Seal with several tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, divulged that he and his wife had voted for Donald Trump. It was astonishing to discover how charming the couple were despite their political leanings.

INNOVATE

It’s somewhat self-appeasing to blame others for our economic, social and emotional problems. The pressure of performance is diminished. The burden of responsibility is diluted. When it comes to the economy, a Rasmussens Report survey in 2015 polled 1,000 likely voters and found 51 percent believed that undocumented immigrants were taking jobs away from U.S. citizens. The 2016 elections solidified this statistic. It seems the country is divided down the middle on how to evaluate progress or lack thereof, despite any academic research on the subject.

Economists Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney have indicated that “on average, immigrants raise the overall standard of living of American workers by boosting wages and lowering prices. One reason is that immigrants and U.S.-born workers generally do not compete for the same jobs; instead many immigrants complement the work of U.S. employees and increase their productivity.”

Businesses tend to adjust to the size of the opportunity and to the size of the labor market, with more stores opening, keeping longer hours and expanding. So it is reasonable to assume that opportunities exist. It’s a question of finding them, perhaps even in unlikely places.

Blaming others won’t get us that coveted job. This is the year that we acquire new skills, find novel ways to secure employment, apply creativity to keep the jobs we have, innovate within our own spheres and resolve to persist even when all roads seem to dead-end.

INTEGRATE

I’ve often been asked if I speak “Hindu.” Early on, I realized there’s no point in evincing surprise at the question. I’ve learned to answer with alacrity; to describe the difference between the Hindi language and the Hindu religion without judgment. Social and cultural integration is critical to dispelling myths and fallacies about our communities.

With better immigrant integration, our society will be better informed and our schools, downtowns and neighborhoods will be more diverse and accommodative. Social media has made it easy to tackle our limited interactions with those outside our communities. Let’s take advantage of the tools at our disposal.

PROTECT

Without much factual basis, the idea that immigrants or refugees are dangerous has taken hold of our society. The distribution of dangerous folks among immigrants is less than that among natives.

Statistically, more citizens commit terrorist acts in America than immigrants. Both Omar Mateen (Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla.) and Syed Rizwan Farook (San Bernardino) were citizens. Exceptions exist, of course — most tragically, Kate Steinle’s death in San Francisco at the hands of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented homeless man with several felony convictions.

This year, let’s get rid of some of these preconceived notions that drive some of our separatist beliefs.

Discussions about our safety must involve the communities we protect and the communities we profile. When Mayor Ed Lee selected William “Bill” Scott as The City’s next police chief from a pool of 60 or so candidates, he was quoted as saying that “attention to the community” was one of the significant considerations for his decision. Indeed, the San Francisco Police Department must work among, amidst and within our citizen, resident and undocumented communities to truly understand how to avert danger and keep the peace.

PARTICIPATE

The most effective tool to combat marginalization, exclusion and isolation is active citizenship. It is through participation in city rallies, in neighborhood drives, in school volunteer programs and advocacy groups that we build a society not distinguished by color, race, ethnicity, or language, and united by civic attendance.

When possible, speak up and become an information leader, engage in policy and political forums and debate today’s issues: the wall, raids, the border and wages.

Jaya Padmanabhan can be reached at jaya.padmanabhan@gmail.com. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan. In Brown Type covers immigrant issues in San Francisco.

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