The Portuguese default paper size is called A4. It measures 210 × 297 millimeters or 8.27 × 11.69 inches. It’s barely different from the US standard, the so-called “letter size,” which is 216 mm x 279mm, or 8.5 x 11 inches. You only notice the difference when you try to place an A4 piece of paper into an American envelope. It almost fits. But not quite.

Like the A4, I feel “close, but not quite.” Growing up in the U.S., I was obviously American. But not quite. My family was clearly different than my friends’ families. Our food was different. Our traditions and habits were different. In Portugal, it’s frankly hard to tell whether I’m “Portuguese, but not quite” or “American, but not quite.”

This bifocal identity is, in fact, a blessing. It allows me to see things from near and far. From inside and outside.

The current public conversation about tribalism highlights the need to open our minds and hearts to different perspectives. A recent homily by the Rev. Richard Rohr, on the Epiphany, admonishes us to “leave home,” metaphorically if not literally, to explore from the perspective of “the other.” MIT economist and founder of the Theory U change management method encourages us to embark on “empathy walks” to meet and engage with someone with whom we have very little in common. The archetypal “hero’s journey” must begin with the call to adventure, or leaving home. Sometimes home is just your own head.

Empathy is hard, but possible, if we are willing to take a step outside ourselves, to modify our focal length so we can focus on someone else’s experience from their vantage point.

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There is no way to turn an A4 into a letter sized piece of paper. In fact, I don’t want to adjust, accommodate or acquiesce to one or the other orientation. I am not only accepting but also embracing this ability to move freely through the two languages and cultures.

My intention is to expand beyond these two familiar tribes into the lesser known, to explore commonality and to embrace difference.


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