Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Embracing others for their differences!

While this post is somewhat inspired by Pride Month, I think it speaks to more than just gender/sexual identity.  There are SO many lines we draw, categories we put people into, based on who they are, what they do, what they like or how they think.  And in the current political climate, it is very easy to judge people based on our perceptions of these labels.

It is human nature to fear what we don't understand.  When we are faced with something that is outside of our realm of experience, it challenges how we think and often clashes with ideas we have had all our lives.  We are forced to completely re-evaluate how things work in the world, which often brings with it an admittance that we were wrong.  And this can be really hard for people to admit.

When we think about people who are different, regardless of WHY they are different, one of the first things that many people have to fight for is tolerance...acceptance...literally the acknowledgement that they exist!  It still sort of boggles my mind that this is even a thing, that people can be so closed minded that they feel like they know how someone else is experiencing their life more than the person who's life is being discussed.

After tolerance, most of the time people have to fight for equality.  And there is a misconception here, about equality.  Often, the people who were in the position of power, the ones who have the rights, feel like the other group having the same rights means their own position will be somehow lessened.  Think about this for a minute.  If this is actually true, then you are getting your power/position by taking it away from someone else...and now you are fighting to keep them from reclaiming what is theirs because you know you will have to give back what you have taken.

A phrase I have seen tossed around a LOT in recent years is that we shouldn't break up a friendship because of someone's views or opinions.  This kind of reminds me of the 'hate the sin but love the sinner' concept.  Except that sometimes peoples ideas lead to actions and those actions lead to other people getting hurt.  What we do (or do not do) ripples out into the world.  And those ripples can create huge waves that destroy things.  We need to start taking responsibility for our words, and our actions, and even our thoughts.

This is something that is sort in the core of my own belief system, and in many that I have read about.  When you want to change the world, you change YOUR actions, and to change your actions you change your words, and to change your words you change your thoughts.  If I am unhappy with how the world works, but I never do anything about it...that is on me (not the whole problem, obviously, but I need to accept the fact that I am part of the problem).  It is easy to think that I am just one person, or that I have no money/power/voice, but that's the funny thing about's not always easy to see what the effects of our actions might be.

We can truly never know just how much change we cause.  The things we say, they reach other people's ears.  Our words might be shared over and over, and the words may change, but the message remains.  And someone, somewhere, may hear that message and it sparks something within them.  They go on to make a wave, and create a movement, and real change starts to happen.  And it all began with a thought in your head and a word you said, that you might not even remember.

As great as words are, we can all take actions!  Actions is how momentum builds, and it is how the world grows.  Actions can be great and big and dramatic or they can be small and simple.  You might smile at someone in the grocery store, and change their mood and their day.  You might donate old clothing and someone who didn't have anything can now have choices.  You might give your time to help out with a cause you believe in, and together with the other people who show up to help, you make a difference.

Just as change starts with thought, changing your thoughts starts with listening.  Not just assuming, not just believing what  you have always been told...but actually going out, finding someone who thinks something different than you...and really listening to what they have to say. 

Active listening is a skill that isn't taught much, but really should be.  When we passively listen, it's like we are only half paying attention.  We might nod or comment in the right places, but part of our brain is thinking about something else.  One very common mistake, when having a conversation, is to be thinking about what you are going to say next, instead of listening to what the other person is trying to tell you.

When we actively listen, we are fully immersed in the process of listening...of trying to really understand not only the words, but the meaning behind them, the emotion that fuels them, and what they mean to the person speaking them.  It's a form of empathy, being able to imagine yourself in that person's shoes and really internalize what their experience is..what they are going through.

This is the one thing that I think we miss, in many of the hot-topic debates.  We are so focused on our side, our needs, our beliefs, our fears, that we don't think about the other side:  what are they experiencing, what is their reality, what are their hopes and fears.  We need to start from a place of empathy, of understanding, of being open to experiences that aren't our own.  And when we start to do this, we may find that our beliefs aren't as true as we though they were.

There is this big myth in our modern society, the myth of 'one true way'.  Because of the way that we draw lines in the dirt, the way we want to label everything and put things into different categories, and quantify everything on a scale from best to worst, we have developed this idea that there is some kind of perfect way, and that if something works for me, then obviously it should work for you too.

This is something I really see a lot when it comes to religion, and something I think that we need to let go of, if we are going to move forward as a global society.  But we also see in in the silliest, smallest things.  When people get into fights over whether coffee or tea is 'better', I really wonder about the future of us as a species.  If we can't accept that one person likes one drink while another likes a different one...and that is will we ever learn to accept the bigger issues?

One of the things I love most about this crazy, chaotic, amazing world we live in is the sheer amount of diversity that exists!  With the internet, it is fully possible to find groups dedicated to just about anything.  And when you talk to people who are really into something, their excitement is contagious.  Sure, you might never actually want to dress your dog up in historically inspired outfits, but listening to someone who does is fascinating. 

This curiosity about others is exactly the thing that brings us to a place of understanding.  When we stop being fearful and start being curious, we bring a different energy to the discussion.  We start looking for what might be interesting, and what we might learn, and we stop refusing to see what is there. 

I love the term ally, because I think that everyone can use allies!  I love that we can stand up and say, "I may not be (whatever the thing is), but I fully support their right to do so...and I support them!"  How much better of a world would it be, if we could all start to find ways to be allies instead of finding ways to be foes?

There will always be viewpoints that are so opposed to our core Selves, that we could never ally ourselves with them.  But I think that there are less of those out there than we are led to believe.  So much deception goes on in the world, that many times what we think is someone who is fighting against us, is actually someone who is being misled into supporting something they don't actually believe.

They say the truth will set you free, and I believe this.  But truth can be subjective....I don't feel like we can understand Truth in any real way, so we are left with understanding each other's truths.  Know your own truth, and seek the truth of the people around you, whether you think you will like it or not.  It is through our collective sharing of truth that we will all grow, that society will grow, and that we will start to build the world that supports us all, instead of the one that seeks to divide us and make us fight each other.

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