For truly, everyone is different than everyone else…
I can’t help but notice that in our society many people avoid those with differences in opinion and values that diverge from their own. Instead they seek likemindedness. Such a refusal to constructively interact creates a domino effect, leaving many individuals lacking in daily habits and behaviors that reflect tolerance and inclusion.
While such a society wears a mask of solidarity, some citizens have indeed developed one habit, that of drawing boundaries. Whether it be motivated by discomfort, lack of understanding, or general unawareness (intentional or unintentional), the lines separating people are there. Some individuals choose to be silent and complacent with the lack of tolerance and inclusivity, while other folks perpetuate it by openly touting hurtful rhetoric. Both behaviors are damaging, for we should be a society seeking to understand and respect different perspectives.
We have become people of divisiveness, rather than indivisible.
These divisions are born out of fear – and we must be weary, for fear can escalate to more harmful forms of behavior. Adults who were once children and children who will grow into adults, must learn to channel compassion and empathy in place of fear. Such qualities are the building blocks for mainstreaming tolerance and inclusion.
Transforming ourselves, communities and ultimately our society will demand work from each of us, daily work. Work in building awareness, practicing respect, listening with open minds and hearts, and taking individual and collective action to transform ourselves and our communities.
Building Tolerance and Inclusiveness
So, where do we start?
- Be Curious, Seek Out Different Perspectives
It is important for all of us to try to grasp points of view that we do not understand, even if we ultimately disagree. [I want to clarify that I’m talking about respecting perspectives that vary from your own, not turning a blind eye to prejudice and hate]
Surrounding ourselves only with people of common ilk will create barriers to practicing tolerance and inclusivity in our daily lives. I see many seek out likeminded people for their “tribe”: selecting loving partners who are practically carbon copies; socializing within one’s own socio-economic group; fraternizing with others of one’s religion; gravitating towards members of one’s race and/or culture, seeking out conversations with individuals who share similar ideologies, etc. This approach is shallow, flattening our perspective and our potential for growth. While it may be easier to connect with others like us, there is something to be said for moving beyond our comfort zone and interacting with different ideals.
Start by being curious. Curiosity is something to be revered (you aren’t a cat). We encourage curiosity in our children because it stimulates learning and development. Adults are no exception. Different perspectives will deepen our education — think of it as a daily exercise in personal enrichment.
Broaden your own circle with people of varying (even opposing) values and opinions. Find a common thread (shared hobby, class, parenthood, neighborhood, etc.) to use as a link and branch outwards in your conversations with these individuals.Build professional teams that encourage differences in opinion and values. President Obama knew the importance of competing perspectives. He welcomed rivals to join his cabinet, knowing it would only add value to his governing practices. Travel (literally) to other locales where people think and act differently.
- Share Another’s Story
Despite advancements in technology, information has become convoluted. Social media, the main vehicle for much of today’s communications, can be used as a tool or a weapon depending on the person behind it. In some cases, we don’t know which news/literary sources to trust. Despite this state of confusion, each of us does wield some power in the search for the truth : through embracing personal stories in our own networks and communities.
Share someone else’s story. Write it in their voice, as if they were telling it. Storytelling is powerful. The world needs intimate stories from a variety of perspectives. This is why people write and read biographies and memoirs. As you get deeper into a person’s story, you can better understand what they represent. Whether or not you agree with their opinions and/or values is not the point, it is an exercise in empathy. The honesty of this process will deepen your connection to different views, even if the story is for your eyes only.
- Create Sanctuary for Discourse
Many of us have trouble with truly listening to what others are saying. Hearing and listening are not the same. Other opinions may rub against the grain of what we think and value, but also push the boundaries of our mindset to a place where we can grow and thrive. Conflicting opinions should spark the start of a good conversation, not end it or be avoided. The challenge is in creating a place where these conversations can be held and respected.
Create a sanctuary in your community for promoting discourse, a place where people can be attentive to each other’s’ views on life and discuss honestly. Hold space for others to freely express themselves without judgment, only asking for people to bring an open mind. Invite a variety of perspectives to dinner at your home or partner with a local business to host small discussions around pertinent topics.
Of course we will continue to notice different opinions and values, but by instituting these kinds of habits and behaviors for ourselves, those differences will not be a distinguishing factor in who we choose to interact with or not.
We will be practicing tolerance and inclusion in our daily lives.