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  • By Theodore Lewis

Diversity is a great thing

South Portland, Maine —In management, the most effective C-Suites I've seen had great diversity, from the standpoint of sex, age and ethnic background. In life, some of my greatest learning experiences have come from being with people whose backgrounds are different from mine.

Living in Guam — where I was a minority — was a great experience for me. I'll never forget standing in line behind an older Chamorro lady at the checkout counter in K-Mart Tamuning. When she turned around and saw me, she said, "You go first." I replied, "No, you were here first."

After some polite arguing, I asked her why she would want me to go in front of her. She told me that I represented the group that had saved the island from the horrible situation they were under during the Japanese occupation of World War II. Wow, what a testament to respect and honor this lady showed. After our polite exchange, I made sure that she went first.

One of the neat things about Ubering is the diverse people you meet from all walks of life. With each ride pick up, you never know who's going to get in your back seat and what might develop from a totally random pairing of rider and driver.

On Jan. 3, it was a cold and snowy day in Portland, Maine. At 4:11 p.m. a ride request came through for a pick up at the airport requested by Deepak who is traveling to Brunswick, 30 miles to the north. As we traveled northbound, I learned that Deepak Singh is from India. He is an author and broadcaster, having worked for the BBC in India. During the ride Deepak asked me if I would be able to provide some private transports for him between Brunswick and Portland, and I replied yes.

Over the next few months I helped him with several rides, and our conversations went from superficial to very in depth and fascinating. We became good friends and we both learned a lot from each of our diverse experiences we had gone through in life. Deepak was fascinated with Watergate and I shared with him my memories of that historic time in American history.

I was fascinated with what it was like for him coming to America as an immigrant. Deepak had earned an MBA in India. After his arrival in America he spent months job searching, and the only job he could find was a minimum wage job at an appliance store. I listened intently as he shared with me the stories of discrimination he faced and I learned through his experience how being in a non-white ethnic group can make it much more difficult to succeed in a predominantly white workplace. I also learned how unprotected service workers are accruing little vacation or sick time and being easily cast aside when organizations decide they are no longer needed.

I must admit that my appreciation for what those of other backgrounds who want to immigrate into America go through in coming here, had been at a low level. After Deepak's struggle and eventual success learning the appliance business, doors began to open for him and he now does work as a radio journalist and has had a book recently published by the University of California Press, entitled "How May I Help You? An Immigrant's Journey From MBA To Minimum Wage."

I've learned a lot from Deepak and his book, which is helping me not to judge others so quickly that may be struggling trying to find their place here in America.

The very next day after finishing the book, I was Ubering and at about 8 p.m. received a ride request from Sacchidananda to be picked up at the Appliance Warehouse in South Portland. Sacchidananda? What kind of name is this? Male or female? Obviously a foreigner, but from what country? After arriving at the Appliance Warehouse I find Sacchidanada. He gets in the front seat without asking permission (most Uber passengers will get in the back seat and if they sit in the front, they will usually ask permission first). Right away, I learn he is from India. He asks me a question "Where you from?" "Michigan" I replied. "Where that?" he asked.

As I'm explaining where Michigan is I notice his head has slumped and he has fallen asleep. A minute or so later he woke up and I asked him how long he had been here. He said, "two months ago; cold here.” He then dozed off again.

With Uber, both the rider and driver rate each other on a scale of between one and five stars. During my rides I usually start thinking about the rating I will give the rider as the ride is nearing completion. The vast majority I rate at 5 stars. In this case I'm thinking I will give either 3 or 4 stars.

As we neared the destination at an apartment complex on Route 1, Sacchidananda suddenly wakes up and says "Sorry, tired." All of a sudden, I think of my friend Deepak, and what he faced coming to America working his first job at an appliance store. After arriving at his apartment, and wishing him well as he's departing, I'm ready to put in my rating for Sacchidananda. 5 stars Sacchidananda Sacchidananda! May God bless you on your journey!

Theodore Lewis is the former CEO of the Guam Memorial Hospital As an Uber driver, he is now a full-time explorer of life. Send feedback to

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