I am not sure if there was ever a better time to use the phrase, “It was the best of times it was the worst of times.” Because they are both on the table before us and we can decide what we choose to feast on. When we talk about difference and being different, what do we really see? Sameness is such a comfort zone for us. Stepping outside of it to embrace difference can be scary, even when we are a part of a community that has been ostracized, polarized, politicized and quite literally dragged through the mud by those who wouldn’t embrace our differences.
Difference is phenomenal, but how often do we really take that in? Most of my experience with people, companies and nations ‘that talk about differences is that they are really looking for how we are the same.’
I know what being the same is. I started out the same. I was a little black girl, in an all black neighborhood in the south Bronx where everybody listened to the same music, Motown. We all ate the same foods, grits and eggs, fried chicken, greens and macaroni and cheese, candied yams… who knows what I’m talking about? And everyone went to the neighborhood church or the same kind of Baptist church and sang the same songs, Jesus Loves Me, Precious Lord and Amazing Grace. And every mother said the same thing when you were getting on their last nerve. “Sit your behind down and don’t move.” “Because I said so” and “Don’t make me have to beat your behind out here in public.” (ooh, I needed a change).
And then we moved to the northwest Bronx to an all-white neighborhood, that was a mix of Irish, Italian and Jewish and this 7-year-old Black girl from the South Bronx with my natural hair and by then my larger than these new kids body stood out as really different. I hated it for many years and tried my best to be the same, I would say even lost myself in it until I finally had to find myself and my difference decades later.
If we are going to cultivate difference, we need to swim for new shores in the midst of all this hate and division. But how do we use the very thing that is being used by so many to tear us apart to bring us together? These are Unchartered Waters.
The good news is unchartered waters can be both scary and exciting if we actually feed off of difference. The different people, ideas, stories, resources, energy, time, money and love. But how do we look around and see unchartered waters as good news? Many people are reporting that they are depressed about where we are as a nation. A smaller number of people are reporting that they are hopeful. While some are depressed that they are still hopeful and even more of us are what I am calling “hopefully depressed.”
If we are going to do this, we will have to break culture and look for and love difference and all that it brings rather than seek comfort in sameness.
How do we do that? By asking ourselves questions and answering them honestly.
What am I doing to add to the hopelessness and the division? So easy to engage in the nay-saying and the name-calling. So easy to react to a comment especially on social media. As a conflict resolution strategist, I talk a lot about the soul of conflict. That place where our triggers exist. Our kryptonite, that place where when people touch our pain we react rather than respond. Difference tends to be the catalyst for triggers and reactions. How are you responding to difference on every level?
As I look at the vastly different viewpoints out there, why do I need to change them and make them the same as mine? It seems like we are all walking around with the same title for the book we are writing. Everyone Who Does Not Agree With Me Is An Idiot. But are they really or is it just that the path to getting what we want is a lot easier when people think like us and agree with us? But when we are different, we need a wider lens to incorporate so many views and we need to consider deeply how what we say and do impacts all.
When it comes to change can I look first at myself and what changes I need to make in order to lessen the divide? Perhaps it is as we ask people not to name-call or have twitter wars that we can look at how we are engaging with others. Can we just take stock of ourselves and how we think about and talk about people with opposing views, different ways of living and the way they view the same events? Small changes make a difference.
Interconnectedness. What affects you, affects me.
Can I listen to someone else’s story and hear the connection even when I disagree with them? The good news coming out of all the conflicts that have arisen and the movements and protests and outcries, is that there are many people who are noticing and acting on our connectedness. Your story is different from mine and still it touches me. We are connected.
Can I lean in and listen for how different we are in a way that appreciates it and us? Don’t worry, we will find the sameness, that always shows up but that person you are sitting with, the people that you will share space with and meet on Zoom, can you break culture and suspend the need to find sameness and get comfortable with what makes you two different and the challenges and different lenses that brings to the table?
Can I refuse to see all of the bad in the different voices, perspectives and conflicts out there and focus the bulk of my energy on seeing and spreading the good?
Each and every one of us is worth coming together for. Each and every one of us is worthy of the hope that says you can come along, let’s swim to new shores together and make difference work for all of us.