Living with Differences

It can be difficult to work with other people for a variety of reasons. Some difficulties are easier to overcome than others. Often we can connect with people with a little creative sensitivity. But, sometimes it can require a great deal of patience and determination.

Why should we make this effort? There are critically important reasons to rise above our differences. To secure the safety of our communities and to resolve local problems, we will need “all hands on deck.” And, to seek a vision for the future that we can all get behind will require that we actually listen to and understand one another.

It is not necessary to compromise our personal views and beliefs. We each must maintain our personal dignity, integrity, and a confident sense of self.

That said, we will increasingly find it necessary to work with folks we may not feel comfortable with at first. The challenge is to be both self-confident and respectful as we engage with others to in the context of community.

Robert Heinlein made the point clearly when he said, “I never learned from a man who agreed with me.

Coming to understand the personality and perspective of another individual can be useful in itself, even if no possibility of agreement exists. It can be the means for crystallizing our own thinking and beliefs. And, if we approach it as a learning opportunity, we have much to gain from one another in knowledge, skills, and experience.

Aristotle is believed to have said that “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Well, Aristotle did not go to high school, and neither have some of us. But, it is our job to figure out what he meant and learn how to do it!

It is important to respect the integrity and sincerity of every other human being, allowing our differences to exist freely in their own space, distinct from the roles of community-member, teammate, or friend.

Suppose we find ourselves dealing with a person who presents us with special challenges – perhaps someone who does not believe effective community to be possible, or who values their privacy to an extreme, or who just seems unreceptive?

It is almost always possible to work with someone who we find difficult if we are patient, creative, and open to finding a way.  It is important to understand from the beginning, however, that in such circumstances we cannot allow ourselves be emotionally needy or easily disheartened. Such an effort calls for a pleasant attitude and a generous spirit.

Often it is impossible to know why a person remains distant or unresponsive despite our best efforts. But, pain is often hidden there, whether it is conscious or not. And, caring will always give solace, however silently it is received.

The wise do not impose themselves until they obtain a hearing. If, however, we are able to plant the seeds of community in the fertile soil of the human heart, and water them gently with loving kindness, we may not have to wait long before their green shoots spring forth into the light of day.

When we make ourselves present in the life of another without expectation or demand, healing can take place without our knowing – until the dam breaks and the feelings flow.

We need not do more than simply be as fully present as that person will allow, and wait patiently in kindness until a response comes in the fullness of time.

It might take days, weeks, or years. But it will come.

In a little book called The Miracle of Dialogue (1963), the Christian theologian Dr. Reuel L. Howe wrote that “every man is a potential adversary, even those whom we love. Only through dialogue are we saved from this enmity toward one another. Dialogue is to love, what blood is to the body…. When dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hate are born. But dialogue can restore a dead relationship.


Next week: Understanding the Long Crisis

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