Bill Clinton expands definition of ‘neighbor’

Story by Katie Thurbon

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Last spring, I ate lunch with the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton. Oh, and a few hundred other people.

Every year on President Harry S. Truman’s birthday, the Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award Foundation hosts a luncheon in Kansas City in the late president’s honor and presents the “Good Neighbor Award” to a prominent and impactful citizen.

This year, Clinton was the recipient of this award and, luckily, I got the invitation to sit at the Baker University table. During his acceptance speech, Clinton spoke, surprisingly enough, about being a good neighbor.

Whether or not you agree with Clinton’s policies, you cannot deny he is a well-traveled man. His definition of a neighbor, therefore, was quite a bit broader than most people’s.

While his style of speaking alternated between almost lackadaisically telling family anecdotes to describing global problems with urgency, it was clear he was passionate about getting a message across.

The heart of his message was an insistence that people are the same no matter where you go, and they should be treated as such.

“Every non-age difference you can see is in one half of one percent of the human genome,” Clinton said.

That means we are all 99.5 percent the same. Yet I can easily recall half a dozen wars that have been fought on account of this half percent.

“Ever since cave times people know their identity is predicated from their differences from others,” Clinton said.

Humans instinctively gravitate toward those that are similar to them. It is an instinct based off fear. Primarily, fear of the unknown.

If instead we see these differences as opportunities, we are able to evolve and progress.

Expanding on the ‘two heads are better than one’ idiom, Clinton pointed out that if you pose a problem to 25 people of average intelligence and alternatively to one genius, the 25 people will always collectively come up with a better solution.

Clinton called this “creative cooperation.” In reality, it’s simply a willingness to accept different perspectives.

As always, this is easier said than done. For the next three-and-a-half months, however, I’ll be forced to put my money where my mouth is. Fulfilling a lifelong goal, I will be living studying in Granada, Spain, this semester.

So I intend to travel to Spain with the mindset Clinton implores all people to have.

Although I will inevitably run into many cultural differences while abroad, I will also strive to focus on the 99.5 percent that I have in common with anyone I encounter. I believe this mindset will enable me to enjoy any and all experiences to the utmost.

I trust Clinton’s words of wisdom will not let me down.