When I was in sixth grade, a new family moved into our small town of 2500 people. I was excited to see a new face and gain a new friend. My 13-year old self was convinced that the new girl, Jenny, would be the center of attention. Everyone would want to be her friend. I was wrong. In the less than three months Jenny was at our school, I was one of a scant handful of people who befriended her.
When Jenny and her family moved, I remember being envious of their vagabond ways. I saw her life as one of rolling opportunities of discovery. The at best complacency and at worst hostility, toward someone who was not like us really shocked me. For, in my friendship Jenny, I was introduced to a life not available in that very small, very Catholic town.
When I was fourteen, not too long before I was confirmed in the Catholic Church, my godmother gave me a copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The book was a rich unfolding of a different spiritual path. As I was drawn into the story, the way that I saw my relationship with God changed. My own spiritual journey was transformed.
These life altering moments happened within months of each other to this small town Catholic girl from a working class family. Instead of shying away from people and things that were different, I relished new experiences and new people. These were opportunities to learn and grow. I was eager to learn about life that was not like mine and figure out ways to make my life richer.
I am continually amazed and dismayed by the polarization that I see. Like that young teenager, I am at lost to explain why we avoid what is different and why the not like us is met with hostility. While we have grown technologically, maybe deep inside, in the core of our being, we are not so different than we were in the 1970s. In the past we may have been civil and polite while silently and privately reviling what is different. Now, we loudly and publicly shout our anger and fear and hatred.
When I think about the younger version of me, I realize that I really haven’t changed either. Right, left, in the middle, I keep reaching out in an attempt to engage, to figure out why someone believes the way they do — to find their core of humanity that resonates with mine. And, perhaps that resonance will change me for the better. I am no longer homogenous for the richness of diversity transforms me. Transformed, I contribute to a dynamic, flourishing community that welcomes all.
I have always thought that understanding another but not necessarily agreeing with them, is the gateway to living in peace. This peace is forged by negating the importance of being right or having things our way. We all want to be right. I think it is written into our DNA. When we cast aside our agenda, we walk through the gateway of realized peace that is sustained by living with respect and unconditional love. We are part of a thriving community strengthened by the realization that we are all in this together. We are no longer silo-ed homogenous communities, but one community transformed by the richness of diversity.
We can choose to live in a bubble of our own beliefs or the beliefs of the segment of society of which we are part. If so, we create scarcity in our life. We may find it easier to slip into fear of that which is not like us. Or, we can embrace diversity — we can discover with an open mind and a welcoming heart how what is different enhances our life experience. And, when we live with this knowing, we prosper as individuals and community.
I see our world as a bakery filled with sugar cookies. I don’t know about you, but I kind of like my sugar cookies in different shapes, some topped with sprinkles, some with different colors of icing, and still others flavored with lemon or almond or anise — and, yes, some are chewy and other crisp. Bland, anemic sugar cookies cut from the same mold just don’t do it for me.
I offer you a challenge this week — no matter where you find yourself on the life spectrum, reach out to someone who is not like you. Open your mind, welcome with your heart, reserve judgment. Find commonality — even if that commonality is that you both sit in the small coffee shop sipping different drinks. Acknowledge your fear and mistrust. Then, step out of it. Listen to understand. Love despite your differences.
You might just discover a new flavor that negates the pungency of fear and angst in your life. The capacity of your heart to love increases. You might discover how differences provide the spice of life and may just be what ties us together.
Vanessa F. Hurst, ms, is a Mindful Coach, Compassion Consultant, Professional Speaker, and Author who weaves her inner wisdom into all she touches. Vanessa offers Neural Synchrony™ sessions to assist clients in navigating their life paths with intuition. Contact Vanessa @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Her books are A Constellation of Connections: Contemplative Relationships and Engaging Compassion Through Intent & Action.