With approximately 7 billion unique people living on this planet, there’s a lot of difference. No other person experiences the world exactly as I do. They all see it, hear it and think about it differently. They all have different tastes, preferences, dreams, aspirations, motivations, beliefs … the list is endless.
Enjoying our differences can be delightful and can be a challenge.
I’d like to live my life enjoying and celebrating those differences. Not only with those who think and act a little different from me but also those who are polar opposites. The further away someone is, the greater the opportunity for mutual learning and enjoyment – and the greater the gap between us I need to handle.
If I don’t have an appropriate attitude and skills, even small differences can be a major headache as I interact, communicate, work and live with others.
More than that, I believe our collective inability to handle difference is at the root of most of the violence in the world. ‘Terrorist’ bombing, invading armies, street muggings or spouse beating are not caused by difference but by our failure to handle them peacefully.
Attitudes to difference
If I see the world as basically divided into ‘good/bad’ or ‘right/wrong’ then I’m going to have a hard time coping with anything that deviates from my way of thinking. I will use my energy to turn the ‘bad’ into ‘good’ and to correct the mistakes of those who are ‘wrong’.
In this view of the world difference is a threat and I tend to be repulsed by it.
This ‘either/or’ thinking puts my energy into division and separation and if you won’t or can’t change then I may be tempted to use force.
Take skin colour as an example.
In polarised thinking I might determine my skin colour to be ‘good’ and other colours ‘bad’. The further away your skin colour from mine, the more ‘bad’ you are. I’m not going to get far trying to change your skin colour but I might value you less highly, avoid or marginalise you and in extreme cases try to eliminate you.
Clearly this is a crazy attitude, but crazy seems to be very common!
I believe an important step is to change my polarised, static thinking to something fluid. In most things there is a continuum and there is variety.
People are not ‘black’ or ‘white’ but present a whole rainbow of colour, and not just in skin pigmentation!
If I’m curious, every difference represents an addition to my experience and a chance to add something to my understanding of the human condition. I may be horrified, afraid or disgusted by difference, but that’s a strong indicator that the gap is wide and the potential for learning huge.
In this view of the world, difference is welcome and I’m attracted to it.
Skills of handling difference
I don’t think there is any mysterious skill involved and is easily learned and refined.
Consider those people who seem naturally at ease with the variations in the people around them. I believe they are skilled in 4 basic areas:
- Finding common ground
Despite the multitude ways we differ from each other, at the core we’re the same. We’re made of the same material, are physically designed to a similar blueprint and share the same universal needs. We drink water, breathe air and eat food. We all need love with it’s myriad manifestations, meaning, companionship, honesty, respect and many other fundamental needs.
While I may not find common ground in our thinking, beliefs or preferences, I can always find common ground in our shared humanity.
Asking you questions from an open and enquiring mind gives you an opportunity to share your inner world with me. Enquiring questions are open (what? how?), short and explore rather than interrogate. They are what allow us to explore and discover.
Fully listening not only to your words, but to the deeper currents of emotions and needs (’empathy’ in NVC language). So called ‘active listening’ can be faked but not sustained while true empathy can only come from a deep, authentic place. The highest levels of listening are an invitation to you to open up. It is a gift of my attention and space where I cherish your experience and life energy.
Sharing what is alive in me, my vulnerabilities, my joys and the journey of my life gives you a chance to learn from me. It builds trust and mutual connection and is just as much a gift as what you reveal to me.
When we can enjoy our differences, we have a chance to meet as fellow human beings where violence has no place.
Welcome! I'm Ian Peatey and this site is one way I share Nonviolent Communication (NVC) by writing articles and sharing information about NVC materials, news and people. I hope you'll be a frequent visitor.
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