Everyone is unique. When we look around, we can easily spot the difference.
People have different physical attributes from skin colour, to height, to body built, to hairstyles. No two person are the same – even identical twins! We have our own experiences, varying perspectives and different means of doing things and communicating our thoughts.
Even when we have the same goal, we might not necessarily agree on a similar means to achieve that. Differences are bound to arise when interacting with people and it’s actually normal for differences to be present. Despite this blatant fact, we, myself guilty of this too, somehow still expect everyone to be just like us.
Although we might not be outrageously offended by differences, we are often taken aback by differences and react to them.The crucial point is what we do when there are differences.
Diversity is not division
We feel comfortable when with like-minded people. After all, birds of a feather flock together. It’s easy to click with people who like the same things that we do, and understand our lingo.
Differences, on the other hand, can oftentimes be taken negatively. When people are different from us, we tend to shy away or shun them. It’s awkward when people are different. We can feel threatened and withdraw or we become defensive of ourselves resulting in us being on the offense.
While we might not understand or hold the same values as some people, we do not have to take their views as something that is against us. Even if we have opposing views, it’s not something bad. Instead, having people who are different from us helps widen our world. It encourages us to reconsider our own beliefs.
At times it provides a fresh perspective to our already established routines and breaths in newness. At other times, it strengthens our developing views as it further confirms what we have been thinking.
Differences does not mean we are divided. There can be unity in diversity when we understand that we can all agree to disagree.
Finding the middle ground
I can be a meat-lover and you can be a vegetarian. We can both go all out for what we like, but we don’t have to force our ideas on the other and neither do we need to ridicule the other party for not liking what we do. We can freely share the reason for our choice but not expect the other to agree.
When we understand that the other party is sharing just so we know where they are coming from and not to shove their ideals on us, we become more receptive to listen. After all, more knowledge does us no harm.
Sometimes though, a collaborative decision needs to be made by people of different walks, be it those with slight differences or those who are at extreme polars. How can an agreement be reached without sacrificing any party or feeling like we’ve lost out in an agreement?
One thing I’ve learnt is to be flexible with the majority of things yet still steadfast to our core – knowing clearly what really matters and fighting for the few we are not willing to give up while providing leeway in the rest. This give and take method provides room for negotiation without compromising what’s dear to us.
Always be willing to try new things, even if it doesn’t match what we advocate for, since we need to give it a go to be able to say it doesn’t work. Who knows, perhaps in the process of trying, we might amaze ourselves and find some hidden treasure we would never have discovered if we had only stuck to what we believe in.
We’ve always talked about celebrating differences but it’s easier said than done. Celebrating each unique self is more than just coming together to celebrate the festivals each culture or community has. What this could end up as is in fact stereotyping people rather than seeing them as unique individuals.
We need to look beyond, race, nationality, socioeconomic classes and start seeing individuals for who they are both collectively as a people group but more importantly personally as an individual - personal interests, potentials, likes and dislikes as well as challenges.
When we begin to take time to know someone as a person, we begin to realise that in spite of all the differences, we might not be that different when it comes to our core values.
We all want to love and be loved. We all want to understand and be understood. We all need others and want to be needed. We want to know that there is a purpose for our existence and want to leave a legacy worth remembering.
The moment we understand this, all the glaring differences that we usually spot become less of an eyesore but more of a unique trait.Then we begin to embrace and truly celebrate differences the way God celebrates each and every one of us.
Esther Koh is a primary school teacher living in Wellington with her husband and two sons. She loves people and has a passion for helping others find their purpose for living.
Esther Koh’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/esther-koh.html