Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How to Appreciate Difference

Lately I've been trying to recognize and assess my reactions to difference, especially because my first reaction is so often to assert the superiority of my own way of life over another. For example, when I see a woman wearing a leopard print top and unflattering zebra spandex pants, my default reaction is often to sneer and think, "that's tacky," or "does she really think that looks good?"

Sometime over the last few years I finally realized that my reactions to difference, whether of opinion, lifestyle, taste, or behavior, say more about me (and often my own weaknesses, hypocrisies, and insecurities) than they say about the target of my judgment. Since I've realized this, I've been trying to bring my actions up to speed with my beliefs. So I've taken to stopping myself whenever I want to mock someone, and asking, "where did that come from?" When I catch myself rolling my eyes when someone says they love "Twilight," or shaking a fist (okay, fine, a finger) at Fox News, or when someone shares a political view I find particularly ignorant or hateful, I'm trying to remember this mantra:

"It's good that there is room for viewpoints and attitudes so vastly different from mine. I'm glad that we're such a free and creative and diverse society that I often encounter people so unlike myself, living freely and without oppression or restriction."

It's easy enough to wish they'd just see things my way, and to imagine what a better place the world would be if only everyone saw things the way I did. But they don't think the way I do, and they won't, as long as they're free to think differently and don't find compelling reasons to join me.

Really, the world *wouldn't* be a better place without them around. Where do you find absolute uniformity of appearance? Only where strict codes are enforced, options severely limited. Where do you find voluntary uniformity? Only where the atmosphere is subtly or actively hostile to difference (often simply by championing compliance).

Where do you find absolute uniformity of thought? Nowhere. Even within the same belief communities, different opinions will thrive unless stifled (whether by the individual or the community). If difference abounds, it's a good sign--it means people aren't being oppressed, silenced, or persecuted for their beliefs. It means we're not being forced to agree with anyone, and they're not being forced to agree with us. Let's remember to appreciate it. Let's be grateful.

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