Fall 2011: Kate Sheppard Response to "Bridging Differences" Essay Winners

Kate Sheppard, author of, "Why My Dad's Going Green," responds to the winning essays of the Fall 2011 writing competition.
Sheppard Family.jpg

Thomas Sheppard in 1988 with Kate and her baby brother Alex. 

Dear Cherese, Wesely, Lourdes, and Haley,

I wanted to congratulate you on winning the YES! Magazine National Student Writing Competition. Each of you submitted an essay that was deeply personal and compelling, and is certainly worthy of this recognition. Not all writers are able to draw from their own experiences and find lessons that resonate with others, but each of you did so quite well in your essays.

What I found most interesting is how very different each of your examples was from each other, but nonetheless was informative about the broader issue of how we learn to deal with and overcome differences in our personal relationships. While my original essay was about finding shared vales with my father despite our political differences, yours drew from romantic, familial, and friend relationships that have been made difficult by competing value systems or priorities.

In your essay, Lourdes, I was moved by your love for your father despite his alcohol problems and the rift this has caused between him and your mother. It took a good deal of courage and self-reflection to write this piece, and this passage in particular:

I just wish my dad and my mom got along. They don’t know how happy I get when they are together. I love both of my parents the same. I just wish my dad would stop drinking beer. I don’t want him to die, and I especially don’t want to leave him alone. I want to be with him all my life.

I found it touching in your essay, Cherese, to read about how you came to an understanding about why your grandmother says many cruel, racist things. While you did not excuse her actions, you made a very honorable attempt to put yourself in her shoes:

Before I learned the practice of compassionate listening, I never really listened to my grandmother. I just thought she was racist and that was that. I believed she had no right to feel the way she does. This journey has been—well—hard. Slowly, through compassionate listening, I have begun to understand that by resenting my grandmother for her hate and racism, I have made myself part of the problem. I am now part of the solution.

In your essay, Wesely, I appreciated that you used compassion and persuasion, in the form of a documentary about factory workers in China, to reach consensus with your wife on shopping smarter:

Seeing kids earn 10 cents an hour to make beads for Americans  throw on the street during a party opened my wife's eyes to the impact her spending had on the rest of the world. We resolved our bickering by agreeing to make more informed and conscious decisions when we spend our money.

What I appreciated most about your essay, Haley, was that you were willing to acknowledge your own stubbornness when it came to debating your best friend about the merits of homeschooling. The inability to see our own faults and biases is often one of the biggest challenges addressing our differences:

We started to grow apart. Her subtle hints on how much I was missing out on hurt our friendship. It wasn’t just her fault, though. I was also a victim of defending my point of view. Our hard-headedness would not allow us to agree to disagree.

Each of you chose relationships to write about in which dealing with differences can often be very difficult—our parents, grandparents, spouses, and best friends. Learning to make peace with—or at least better understand—those closest to us is hard. But if we can't do that with people we love, it's hard to believe that we would be able to find common ground with strangers. I happen to think that doing so, however, is the only way we can find progress.

Congratulations to all of you. You should be very proud!


Kate Sheppard


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