LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Relationship beyond the digits

I’ve noticed in recent years the marvel many express over the benefits of relationship-building. This is confounding and admittedly paralyzing to me. Why? Because relationship-building for me is a foundational principle in being human. As a proud member of the last generation to be raised without a cell phone or computer, making relationships across ethnic, class, gender and other socially prescribed lines was the social norm. I thank my father for instilling this value of connecting with others in me.

My professional career, from high school to the present, has consecrated relationship-building repeatedly.

• In high school, I worked as a grocery store clerk and learned the importance of customer service.

• In college, I was employed at the downtown library where my customer service skills expanded to a diverse patronage.

• I’ve worked for two large worldwide corporations where I interacted with people throughout North America and the Caribbean daily.

• During both stints in graduate school, I worked with marginalized populations including Hispanic communities in San Antonio and female victims of violence in Fort Wayne.

• As a college professor, I’ve taught thousands of students about culture and society.

• I’ve worked extensively with Native American populations and have observed and experienced their lifestyles.

• I’ve worked with drug addicted populations off-and-on for years.

• And, I’m leading the Welcoming Fort Wayne ministry striving to make Fort Wayne more welcoming to immigrants.

My family ethos was further driven by a professional calling to cultural anthropology because I recognized my greatest asset was talking to and learning from others. The required training to be a successful social scientist further taught me how to engage respectfully with those very different than I, and it showed me the importance of objectivity and cultural relativism in a rapidly changing world.

Unsurprisingly, the collective championing of others is the running theme of my professional career. Whether one works for the profit or non-profit world, healthcare, education, government, or elsewhere, relationships are the key to healthy ‘business.’ That said, I feel we need more people in office who value relationship-building and that’s why I decided to run for Perry Township Trustee last year. I’ve been attending neighborhood association, Huntertown Town Council, North West Area Partnership, and other meetings for several months and many have asked, why I’m “doing more than what’s typically expected to run for this office?” This is disheartening. How’s learning what’s going on with constituents considered over-and-above the norm? Shouldn’t this be the norm? I will always strive to understand others more and will never stop asking questions and listening. My day job, allows me to create curriculum for women in recovery and I’ve made it known from the outset that I’m not a recovering addict. My transparency didn’t distract them as many might presume – in fact they appreciated me even more for it. “You don’t treat us like addicts,” they often remark. That’s because I see the woman inside who’s learning to be the best version of herself clean and sober. This work is undoubtedly challenging at times, but I look beyond the label. They want what we all want — a happy healthy life.

Regardless of one’s professional calling, I believe we need more old school relationship-building. The ongoing education I’ve received over the years has lent to a deeper understanding of our shared humanity. Rest assured, when I begin canvassing township neighborhoods this spring, one’s personal circumstances or political beliefs won’t deter me from listening. I’ve instilled this familial value with my daughter since she was young, and although she’s attached to her ever-distracting smart phone, I also know she values relationship beyond the digits. Those weekly lunches and coffees she has with her grandfather, tell me she gets the importance of connecting. I know I did something right with her.

— Melissa Rinehart, Huntertown

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