One of the most problematic issues in human relationships and communication is our perceived differences. That may seem like an obvious remark, one that invites no further discussion. However, when we examine how we relate to one another, we can see that our similarities and commonalities are often sidelined or ignored. Instead, we defend our position or opinion. We argue we’re right or our way is the only way. The reality of the things we have in common and the enormity of our similarities are often lost to our egos.
Evidence is everywhere. From the meeting of a municipal committee to a meeting at the United Nations, while the stakes may vary, the underlying dynamics are shockingly similar.
How is it that, as a species with obviously common origin (whether you believe in creation or evolution), we have become so isolated in our individual perceptions of reality? Clearly this is a very complex anthropological and philosophical issue. Perhaps we can look at it in terms that can apply to our daily interactions.
When we consider our moment to moment experience is created by our thinking and much of what we think is a product of our upbringing . . . our families, our church, our ethnicity . . . we can begin to see how we’ve developed individual world views or “separate realities”. It’d be impossible to imagine it otherwise. Even in one family we can encounter very different impressions of the same event. It sometimes would seem siblings had different parents, judging from their description of “Mom and Dad”.
How can we get past our perceived differences? How can we find our shared commonalities? A few possibilities come to mind.
First, coming back to the idea of a thought-created reality, perhaps we could take our thinking (i.e. our opinion) less seriously and personally. We could begin to let go of our attachment to the outcome.
Next, we could become more curious about the other person’s state of mind and perspective. When curiosity is our stance, we move into deeper listening and become less judgmental.
Finally, when we’re taking our own thinking less personally and are curious about another’s perception of an issue or event (their reality) we’re able to access our deeper wisdom and compassion. From this place of non-judgment we’re better able to see the individual’s innate health and to have faith in its existence in every human being.
What a different experience we’d have if we approached each other’s differences with curiosity rather than conflict, with compassion rather than judgment. Recognizing that the source of our discomfort and anxiety about differences is simply the product of our own insecure thinking, we are free to explore and learn from our differences. Maybe even to celebrate them. What a difference!