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The Proximity Principle of Loving Your Neighbor with Dean Carolina Nuñez

Tue Oct 18 05:00:56 EDT 2022
Episode 6

Becoming friends with people who are like us is usually easy. But without realizing it, we might be missing out on opportunities to learn from people who are different from us simply because we want to stay in our comfort zones. We are commanded to love our neighbors—and that includes people who might lead a life different than our own. In this episode, we discuss what it means to truly love our neighbors and how both physical and emotional proximity to others can strengthen our love for them and our understanding of the Savior’s love for them.

Everybody is different from you. Everybody is a unique individual. We have to reflect upon our love for each other and decide whether our love is conditional on us thinking that they are the same as we are.
Dean Carolina Nuñez

About Dean Carolina Nuñez

Dean Carolina Nuñez is the co-founder of the J. Reuben Clark Law School’s Refugee and Immigration Initiative, and her work with refugees at the border in Texas has inspired her to discover what it means to truly take on the meaning of “loving your neighbors” no matter the physical distance. She seeks to reach out with charity in every aspect of her life, including being a mother and wife. Her experience being raised in Venezuela and the United States, learning two languages and two cultures makes her perspective on loving our neighbors so profound.

Top Takeaways from this episode!     

  • Physical proximity can help us understand our neighbors better. Take the time to get to know others by getting close to them and live out the Spanish translation of “love of neighbor,” which means, “love of the one who is in proximity.”
  • By reaching out to those who are different, or not always that easy to love, we can learn to love our neighbors as the Savior would have us do.      
  • Taking the time to get to know those around you can sometimes be awkward, but we can decide to push through the awkward!
  • We sometimes assume those around us are just like us, but everybody is a unique individual.  
  • Allowing others to give of themselves and share their love for us is a way we can increase our love for them.

Something to think about:
How has physical proximity to someone increased your love for them as your friend and neighbor? What can you do to increase your love for others who might be physically near you, but feel distant from you in familiarity? 

Small and simple weekly challenge:
It’s okay to be uncomfortable as we are trying to get close to those we consider our neighbors. Be willing to accept a little bit of awkwardness and you’ll be surprised at what will come out of it!


Kathryn Davis 0:00

Being a good neighbor goes beyond just the friends and curated community that make us feel comfortable. Without realizing many of us might be missing out on opportunities to get close to people who are different simply because we are stuck in the familiar. Hi, and welcome to Magnify, an LDS Living podcast where we talk about using our influence as followers of Jesus Christ to make a difference in the world. I'm your host, Kathryn Davis, a mom, a seminary teacher, and a Traeger enthusiast who loves God. In life, it's natural to want to surround ourselves with people and things that make us feel comfortable. Many of us choose to live physically near friends and family. We even curate our social media feeds to reflect our own personal tastes and interests. Being a part of a community where you know how people will react and respond to you in a similar way, gives one a sense of self. But what kind of opportunities are we missing out on when we don't attempt to get close to others that are different than us? The Lord commands us to love our neighbor. But we must not mistake our neighbor as only someone who lives and behaves and thinks like us. Here to discuss how loving our neighbors and getting close to them goes beyond the physical and social segregations of our society is Dean Carolina Nunez. Dean Nunez is the co-founder of the J. Reuben Clark Law School's refugee and immigration initiative, and her work with refugees at the border in Texas has inspired her to reach out with charity in every aspect of her life. Karolina is a daughter to a Venezuelan immigrant father and her experience being raised with two cultures and two languages and on two continents makes her perspective on loving your neighbor so profound. Thank you so much for being here. Today. Carolina

Carolina Nunez 1:46

Oh, thank you. That was a very generous introduction. I'm very happy to be here.

Kathryn Davis 1:50

So I want to have our listeners have the chance to get to know you a little bit better. So I have a couple questions I would like you to answer. Sure. You ready? You spent your early childhood in Venezuela. And I want to know what is one Venezuelan dish you love to make? Or when you miss and want to learn how to make?

Carolina Nunez 2:10

I make arepas and my children beg for arepas all of the time. So that is what I make to please my children. I also love them but it's by popular demand.

Kathryn Davis 2:20

I love that. What about a Venezuelan treat?

Carolina Nunez 2:23

I like arroz con leche that's you know a rice pudding or quesillo which is kind of like a flan... so milky. I obviously like milky things. So now you know what, what tempts me.

Kathryn Davis 2:35

Milky creamy goodness. Yes, exactly. Here's another question. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what book would you choose?

Carolina Nunez 2:43

That is an unfair question. A question I cannot possibly answer. I love magic realism, which is... I don't even know how to explain magic realism. But the genre includes stories that are based in reality, but include magical components. And it's Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude, for example, I could read that genre forever. But I could not pick one book, Kathryn, so don't make me do that.

Kathryn Davis 3:09

Okay, just the genre. That's just the genre. Yes. Okay. Another question, what is your favorite thing to do to relax?

Carolina Nunez 3:18

Probably a hike, not too strenuous. So maybe it would be like walking, listening to a good book, or maybe just listening to the birds. That is pretty relaxing for me.

Kathryn Davis 3:30

I love that. Okay. And the last question that I actually want to know is, I know you went to law school at BYU. Have you always wanted to go to law school? Or what was the draw?

Carolina Nunez 3:43

You know, I think I always wanted to go to law school without really understanding anything about law school. So it was just sort of this abstract concept. In my mind. I didn't really understand what I could do with a law degree, probably till I was just about finished with law school, to be honest. So it's kind of it, there's not really a great answer to the question, but I'm really glad that I did. I'm really glad that I had that seed in my head, and that I did it, even though I had no idea what I was getting into.

Kathryn Davis 4:15

So why do you love it? Now?

Carolina Nunez 4:17

I think understanding the law gives you the ability to help people in ways that they cannot help themselves, the law is very difficult to navigate. And so understanding the law is just it gives you the skill that I think is so needed, and so necessary. And I also just love Law School for the education that it gave me I feel like I'm able to think about things critically, problem solve, and those are skills that come in handy every day of my life. So Law School has been a great great investment for me in my life.

Kathryn Davis 4:52

Well, which is great because it kind of leads into I want to talk with you about what I've listened to you speak about, which I've learned so much. I am sure many of us know what it means to be a good neighbor. Like we drop off a meal when someone is sick, we offered a carpool the kids and we wave at them when we're walking down the street, but loving our neighbor in the way that the Savior taught us is a little deeper than that. And I want to know, what do you think it means to love our neighbor? And who is our neighbor?

Carolina Nunez 5:26

So ,a lawyer, just like me asked that very question, right? He wanted a definition of neighbor who is a neighbor, right. And Jesus answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which of course, we know the story, we know that someone is attacked and left for dead on the side of the road. And a Levite and a priest walked by, and leave him there too. But a Samaritan comes and essentially picks him up off the street, takes him to an in, pays for his care and for his lodging there. And essentially is able to get him settled so that he can get back to the place he was to get healthy, and continue on whatever journey he was on. And so a little glimpse of what it means to love our neighbor. From the parable we find out a little bit more about who is our neighbor as well as how to love our neighbor, what it actually takes to love our neighbor. And so for me that is reaching out to people who are different from us. I mean, if you look at the parable, it's about a Samaritan who is helping somebody on the road. And given the context of the way the Savior is telling the story. These are probably not people who love each other. Samaritans, and the Jews... they were not friendly, right? In fact, they would take alternate routes to get where they needed to go just to not go through each other's territory. And so here we have people who we may as outside observers looking historically at the historical record, see as enemies even Yeah, and we have the Samaritan that is helping someone who maybe would have rejected him, or maybe wouldn't have done the same for him if the tables had been turned. So, to me, the Savior is telling us that our neighbor maybe isn't just the person we just took the banana bread to last night, somebody who lives in our neighborhood, who does things the same way we do. Who lives in a house that looks a lot like our house, who believes the same we do puts the same political signs up in their yard, right? We are to love people who are very different from us and who others would not expect us to love.

Kathryn Davis 7:43

Yeah you've shared some of your own experiences that you've had with this neighborly love when you spoke at a BYU address a few years ago, and I was so impressed with the story you shared about meeting women in an immigrant detention center in Dilly Texas. Can you share a little bit about this experience and how that changed your perspective on the commandment to love your neighbor?

Carolina Nunez 8:09

Sure. So a few years before this happened a couple of years probably before I actually made my first trip to this detention center, I had been thinking about going to volunteer at this detention center. I thought I have some legal skills. I think I could help. I teach immigration law here at BYU law school. So I thought, this is something that I should be able to help with. And maybe I could even take students to help with it. To be honest, it just seemed overwhelming to me, the idea of getting on a plane and going to the border, and staying in some pretty uncomfortable lodging, and having to hear stories of trauma because I knew that the women and children who are being detained at this detention center, were fleeing violence in their countries, and we're seeking asylum in the United States. So it just seemed overwhelming. And I'm super grateful to a colleague who said, let's just do this. Let's go. And let's volunteer. And let's see how it is. And then we can decide whether we want to come again whether we want to bring our students. So I went, you know, with a lot of hesitation. This isn't... I am not a hero in this story. I was drawn to the border. And I was shocked and deeply moved by the connection that I felt with these women and their children in this detention center. I would meet individually with women. And they would tell me their stories. And these are the stories of the worst moments of their lives. And they are trying to get asylum to be able to stay in the United States and they want to be released right from this detention center. And I felt so connected to them, even though I've been fortunate enough, where I have not been plagued by the kind of guy gang violence and sexual violence, and just horror that some of these women experienced. But I nonetheless felt connected to them sitting just a couple of feet in front of me. And as I watched them cry, and as I watched them hold their babies. They were like me, even though they weren't right? I felt so connected to them. And I knew that they loved their families in the same way that I love mine, and that they had the same goals for their families that I have for mine. And I could not have felt that and I didn't feel that until I was sitting in front of them until I was crying with them until I was counseling with them. Even though from afar, I knew they needed help. And I sort of loved them. I sort of felt horrible for them. I wanted them to have a better chance. But I had to be there to really feel that.

Kathryn Davis 10:53

So there's something about physical presence?

Carolina Nunez 10:57

Absolutely. And I think the parable of the Good Samaritan includes that right? Yeah, the Samaritan didn't just say, hey, here's some money. I hope it helps you. Right? He didn't just wish him luck. I hope someone finds you and can help you he actually reached down and basically picked him up, right? A true physical embrace with a stranger. With a stranger!

Kathryn Davis 11:24

Yeah, I mean, I love that you shared the Spanish translation of the phrase love of neighbor. I'll let you say it. My daughter tried to teach me how to say it. But amor al projimo? Amor al projimo. Yes. Which translates to love of the one who is in proximity. That's right. So why do you think it is that we can talk about abstractly loving someone from afar, but really taking the time to understand helps if we get near that person, if there's that proximity?

Carolina Nunez 11:55

There's something about being with each other that changes things, and maybe coming out of a couple of years of isolation has highlighted that for me, right? There is something about being with, with people that I have missed, I've missed a lot less in person interaction. And, you know, we had a pandemic, and that was something that happened. And we had to make decisions about how to protect ourselves and protect our loved ones. But now, as I see people in person again, I'm reminded of the connection that we feel when we are near each other. And I think amor al projimo is a powerful statement. And a powerful way to think about this, because it's not just that we must love the person who was next to us. But we must get close to the person we want to love. And if we are to love people who are different from us, we're going to have to find a way to get close to people who are different from us. And that doesn't just happen by coincidence, right? You're not likely to hang out with somebody who's pretty different from you, right? You're going to have to make an effort, you're going to have to make a decision. And so that's kind of what I like about the Spanish translation of love of neighbor is that it suggests both that there's something about being together and also that we're going to have to be near each other and be near people who are different from us to really love in the way that the Savior calls us to love.

Kathryn Davis 13:27

Well, even listening to that phrase, I think there's such power in that. And it reminded me of a story a friend told me that she was in this walking group with some friends and her really good friend last year, they were hiking up to Timpanogos cave up American Fork Canyon, and she was struck by a rock and ended up passing away. But she left this legacy of after her walk, she would walk around her neighborhood and stop in front of every house because she felt like God could speak to her if there was somebody in that house who needed her. So there was something for her about being close to the house and the people that led for her to have inspiration.

Carolina Nunez 14:13

That is a great gift. If you have that gift that by being with people you are more able to understand what they need. And I think it's absolutely true that you know people better when you spend time with them, right, and when you are physically near them. And that is such a gift that she had that she could sense that by being near their space. Right? That's beautiful.

Kathryn Davis 14:36

Yeah. And that to me, just kind of is another area of that phrase, that Spanish phrase to love the neighbor through proximity. Absolutely. But sometimes I think it can be really hard to get to know people like we might feel awkward or we don't have time. So how do we push through those moments where we feel awkward or we feel like we're a burden?

Carolina Nunez 15:01

So this has happened to me on plenty of occasions. It has happened that I felt like, here's someone that I should get close to that I should love. And then I didn't. And there are also a couple of times when I thought this is someone that I should get close to, and I should love. And it did not go the way I expected. And that's just gonna happen, right? And we have to accept that. During my devotional, I told the story of living in Sandy, and I was working in Salt Lake. And so every day, I would go hop on tracks to get to my job in downtown Salt Lake at my law firm. And there was one particular morning where I was running out of time. So I was running from my parked to the train that was sitting there. And while I normally would be able to look at the car that had the most open seats from the windows, I didn't have that time. So I just jumped on the train. And lo and behold, the car I'm in is completely empty. And I thought I am the luckiest woman alive, right? I have just hopped onto this wide open train car. How did this happen? And as the train started to move, it became apparent why the car was empty. There was a man, an older man, I would describe him as crumpled up in the corner, on the floor, he had very dirty clothes on. And he looked like he he was at the end of his rope, right? He had seen better days, he looked a little bit sort of sleepy and the smell in the car suggested that the he hadn't bathed in a while. And I think he was just in a really, really bad state. And so people had moved off of that car for that reason. And I tried to figure out what to do, I thought, This person needs help. This person needs love. And I just didn't know what to do. I thought, well, I need to get to work on time. And I don't want to get my clothes dirty. And as I thought about it, the moment passed, the chance passed. And a few stations later, a man dressed a lot like I was right in clothes, that would be fitting to go to a business office, a law firm, whatever, the door opened, and this man in his business clothes, sort of stepped onto the train, saw the man that was just right there by the door, the man that was crumpled up on the floor. And he essentially picked him up, supported him in his arms and took him off the train. And of course, I don't know the end of that story. But it's a beautiful beginning to a story. And I'm sad that I was too afraid to even be a part of it. Right? Yeah, I feel like it is going to be uncomfortable. And it is going to be awkward sometimes. And I think we just have to accept that and be willing to do it anyway.

Kathryn Davis 17:53

So was there a time, maybe especially after that experience, where you had a little regret, wishing that you could have been the one? Was there a time after that where you didn't hesitate? Where that lack of action taught you to not hesitate in the future?

Carolina Nunez 18:14

Yes, there have been stories and there have been incidents like that. But I have found that for me in my life, a lot of it, I often need a prompting from a friend, right? Someone will suggest something and I can latch on to that and, and create momentum for it. That's how these things have played out in my life. But I do have there have been times when I have felt something and I have been able to act on them. I do remember a story. This kind of comes back to the pushing through awkwardness and discomfort. I remember once it was late at night and I was driving. I think I was picking up a prescription for one of my children late at night at a pharmacy and I saw a man walking in an empty parking lot. And he had bags with him. I don't know if he was maybe homeless or if he was just trying to get from somewhere to another place and just didn't have a ride. And I felt like I should do something but I didn't know what to do. And so I pulled up next to him. He was walking and I rolled down my window and I said, Do you need any help? And he said to me, like what? And in that moment, I didn't plan for this. And I said, thinking maybe he needs to make a phone call or maybe he needs a taxi. I said maybe money? Because I have some money on me and he said, No, I don't need any money. And I said okay, and I drove off. And so on the one hand, I'm really proud that I did something. On the other, I let the awkwardness and discomfort stop me from asking what he might really need and maybe I wouldn't be able to offer him what he needed. I don't know, but I probably should have listened. I probably should have been a little bit less anxious to check off a box, right? I followed this prompting, I'm done. It's over. Right. But you know, it was awkward. I was a little bit embarrassed. But I think I'm okay with that. And there have been enough instances like going to the border in Texas, which I have since gone other times and have taken students and have tried to listen more and understand more, that I'm willing to accept some of the times when I failed, or when things just didn't work out in any way that I could actually help someone.

Kathryn Davis 20:33

And I wonder, because I think sometimes we might meet a stranger, or somebody on tracks or on a street, and maybe we're a little hesitant to push through some awkward, but I think often that there is somebody living next door or down the street, who is very different from us. And they are vastly different in every aspect of their life. And so how do we love the people who live on our street or live in our neighborhood that are so different from us?

Carolina Nunez 21:07

Yes. And I think this is an interesting question, because we often assume they're not different from us, right? This is the twist ending of the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is everybody is different from you, everybody is a unique individual. And we have to reflect upon our love for each other, and decide whether our love is conditional on us thinking that they are the same as we are right? We have to be prepared to discover that this person is not like us, right, your very next door neighbor, right? Your family members. We have to be prepared to discover and accept that someone is very different from us, and love them nonetheless. So I've talked about getting close to people who are different from us and, and getting close, we're already close to a lot of people, right? And they need to be seen and understood. And we cannot assume that they are just like we are and we must be prepared, be prepared to love them, if they are not.

Kathryn Davis 22:15

So why is that so important to learn from those who are different from us?

Carolina Nunez 22:21

I think it's just the call of the gospel. And I think it requires some level of humility, as well. So to me, if I look at the parable of the Good Samaritan, what helps me from that parable is learning that I need to love people who are different from me. And what love means. It means getting close, and giving concrete love as opposed to abstract love. And it also means being humble enough to receive love from that person. So that's how I like to look at the parable of the Good Samaritan. And part of loving someone is allowing them to share of themselves to give of themselves to you. So while it's really easy to look at the parable of the Good Samaritan as a hero rescue story that we're supposed to emulate, we need to go be heroes, right? Actually, if you look at the parable, maybe we should be putting ourselves in the shoes of the man who was left for dead on the side of the road. And who had a Samaritan, someone who may be he despised, rescue him and help him. And could we would we be humble enough to allow somebody who we would have least expected to love us, allow them to rescue us? And that that might be one of the aspects of love that the parable of the Good Samaritan is meant to teach us. And that's just a totally different story from the way I have thought of the parable of the Good Samaritan, right?

Kathryn Davis 24:06

Yes, it's totally different. And allowing Christ's love from someone else into our lives.

Carolina Nunez 24:14

Absolutely even if it's someone who you would not have expected, right? Even if it's someone who you may have thought you despised.

Kathryn Davis 24:24

So have you had an experience where you have learned about that love from being accepted or being valued from someone else?

Carolina Nunez 24:36

Absolutely. I have had the the turn the tables experience before and I told us this story also in in the devotional that I gave a few years ago. The story starts like a lot of my stories start a friend actually said hey, do you want to go visit and circle and circle offers programming and social events and just camaraderie to members of the LGBTQ community youth in particular. And so they have a building here in Provo. And when this story occurred, it was it was pretty new. And a friend actually said, Hey, we should go visit and circle and the way I was thinking about it was, okay, I have these legal skills, right? And I could go, I know they're brand new. And I could offer to help with... there's always legal issues and starting something new, right? Whether what do you need to register, getting getting set up as an entity, things like that? Right? They were probably beyond that, and wouldn't have needed that particular help. But just other things related to that, right. I also thought that they could use help with with individuals that are part of the community. So I'm going into this again at the prompting of a friend, because that's how my life seems to play out. I do have really good friends. So I drive up with this mentality in mind, and my family comes with me. So my husband and my children, and we walk through the door, and immediately the tables turn. Immediately. It is not me who is the hero of the story, right? I am getting embraced by everyone in that building. My children are finding friends to play with. Food is offered to me. And I just felt so accepted. And so welcomed with zero... Nobody asked me why I was there, they just welcomed me. And that was a really great lesson to me that loving our neighbor isn't necessarily rescuing our neighbor, it is being able to be rescued by our neighbor. And being willing to have that experience.

Kathryn Davis 26:48

That's such a good flip on that parable that I think sometimes we don't think about. Being rescued... that it is often through our acts of service, or where we think we're going to be of service that we are really the ones who are rescued.

Carolina Nunez 27:07

And I think this does sometimes play out in a lot of these situations, I think people... they engage in acts of service, they often will report, you know what it turned out that I learned a lot more right from the people that I was serving. But this was just such a, for me such an important experience that sometimes we should get close to people, not because we think they need us. But because we need them.

Kathryn Davis 27:33

I love that. To look at people even through new eyes, and hopefully through God's eyes, where we can see, hey, we need them.

Carolina Nunez 27:42

Absolutely. We need each other. We need all of us.

Kathryn Davis 27:46

So powerful. Being a good neighbor can go beyond just serving the people around us. In fact, I love this quote from Linda K. Burton. In a conference talk in 2016, she asked us to consider those throughout the world who may need our service. And she said this, "let's ask ourselves, what if their story were my story? May we then seek inspiration, act on impressions we receive and reach out in unity to help those in need as we are able and inspired to do so." It sounds like that's a little of your experience when you went to Texas is when you were hearing those stories, you thought this could be my story?

Carolina Nunez 28:25

Absolutely. There is no guarantee in our life, right, from the moment we're born, there's so much that is up to all sorts of factors. Where we happen to be born, the people that surround us, the government that's in charge, right? There are so many things that are just not up to us. And it is absolutely true, that their story could be my story, right? And when you see... when you talk to someone, and you can draw this connection, you can draw a line between my desire to give my children a future that is free of violence, and their desire to give their children a future that is free of violence. It doesn't matter so much that our stories are different because we have so many of the same universal human experiences. And we can connect based on that. And I think this holds true for people who we disagree with. We have opinions, perhaps that are very different. But what's motivating our different opinions? Probably very similar goals. We want things to be better for our families or better for our children and if we can connect on those universal human experiences, we are so much better poised to love each other.

Kathryn Davis 29:40

So true. And it may seem like loving our neighbor is a simple commandment. Right? Like there are two great commandments love God and love people. And sometimes it seems like that is so simple, but I think reaching outside of ourselves and looking with spiritual eyes at all of God's children can take practice and can take time. But I think that both of those, as you've shared some of your experiences, loving God and loving people can bring us closer to Jesus Christ. And as we close, I just want to ask you, what have you learned about Jesus Christ through your interactions with loving your neighbor? And how has that helped you come closer to him?

Carolina Nunez 30:23

I think that as I allow people who are different from me to offer of themselves to me to share with me, I get a better sense for the way in which the Savior can love all of us. I mean, we know that he loves all of us. And it sounds super abstract, because it's very hard for me to imagine loving all the billions of people in this world. To truly, truly love them. Right? Right. But if I am willing to get close to people who are different from me, I can get a tiny, tiny glimpse of that, right. And that can motivate me to do it more and to love more. So this is something that we have to practice. This is something that I am not good at. This is something that for me requires a friendly nudge, right? That's what I need in my life. But it makes a difference. It has transformed my life and the way that I think about my fellow brothers and sisters.

Kathryn Davis 31:27

And the way that you probably feel God's love in your own life? Absolutely. Absolutely. I think we all need good friends to give us a little nudge. I think so. There's such power when we can feel God's love for others. It helps us catch a glimpse of maybe how he feels about us and letting that love transform us from inside first. Yes, absolutely beautiful. Carolina we like to end every episode of the podcast with one small idea or action from the conversation that we can implement throughout the week. So before we end today, what is your small and simple suggestion for how we can get close to our neighbors and to love them?

Carolina Nunez 32:14

One small and simple thing to remember is that it's okay to be uncomfortable. If you are willing to accept just a little bit of discomfort, a little bit of awkwardness. You might be surprised at what can come out of that.

Kathryn Davis 32:30

I love that. But it's okay to be awkward. Yep, it is. And beautiful things can come. That's right. That's right. Thank you so much for spending some time with us. We are going to link her 2018 devotional in our show notes where she talks about what it looks like to be a great neighbor. And don't forget to join us over on Instagram at magnify community. And of course, subscribe and listen to the Magnify podcast wherever you get your shows. Thanks for being here and let's meet up again next week.

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