I got a note from a friend the other day saying she was in the mountains acclimating for a 100 mile race. My first response was, “Wow!” My second was, “Did she really mean 100 miles?” and my third was, “I think it would take me another lifetime to acclimate for a 100 mile race.” We are all different. And that’s what makes life interesting, wonderful and tolerable. If everyone wanted to be bakers and spend their time baking baguettes, think about what life would be like for all of the folks who are gluten free.
If you need evidence of the broad range of attitudes, aptitudes and appetites with which we approach the world, cruise around an art fair and notice the diversity of what people produce, drive around the Target parking lot and pay attention to the variety of colors and styles of cars, take a spin around the radio or T.V. channels and be astounded, or simply notice how differently people choose to spend their Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Some sleep all day and only rise to eat, others spend the day happily reading a book, while there are those who are up at dawn and busy until they go to bed. Some would choose a day at the symphony, others a day at a Nascar race.
Appreciating differences is one thing, confronting and navigating these same differences in our professional and personal relationships is another. It can be very threatening. We tend to want people we are in relationship with to be like us, want what we want, like what we like and behave the way we do. We want who we are and the choices we make to be validated. And we don’t want the opportunity of getting what we want to be put in jeopardy by conflicting desires and interests. But trust me here; it isn’t the differences that threaten our relationships, it’s the way we approach them that causes problems.
My husband and I corresponded by email for almost 6 weeks before we met face to face. Early on in our email correspondence we played a bar game: Mountains or ocean? Car or airplane? Horseback or bicycle? Camping or Four star hotel? I think we answered almost every single question differently. But we get along pretty darn well, at least until one of us tries to aggressively, or worse, passive aggressively, convince the other person to like something we like that they don’t.
It might take a little more conscious effort. Some additional time, compassion, acceptance, self confidence and respect (and some well honed collaborative problem solving skills.) But, the main key to accepting and respecting differences is to trust. Trust you won’t be judged. Trust you won’t be rejected. Trust that it’s safe to express your unique authentic self and your individual desires. And trust in your big bad self that you are willing to to stand up for your preferences in the face of a challenge. It’s beneficial to relationships for individuals to have different interests. So as long as everyone respects personal rights and boundaries in their actions and choices, we can embrace our differences and forge ahead in partnership – even if “you are a little country, and I’m a little bit rock and roll.”
And, I’ll leave you with this thought and hope it sticks. The best quote I ever heard on this topic was from a classmate of mine in my first year of law school; it was regarding obscenity. He said, in his adorable, shy Southern drawl, “What some people think is obscene, someone else might think is kinda nice.” The whole class erupted into laughter, but it’s true. So, remember it, open your minds, open your hearts and show some respect.