Accepting Those Who Are Different

Most of us readily pay lip service to the fact that people are different and that’s what makes life interesting and so on. How much do we really accept those who are different from us in some fundamental way?

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard
Oh Lord, why don’t we?

– Paul McCartney

Join me in asking yourself honestly, in the privacy of your own mind and heart, whether you truly accept the following groups of people without in some way judging them as being wrong.

1. Different sexuality

Homosexuality is controversial in many parts of the world. Many religions still proclaim it wrong, and many countries still outlaw the homosexual act.

When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.

– Epitaph of Leonard P Matlovich

Yesterday I watched a Youtube video of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream”. Almost half a century on, America is on the verge of voting an African American as President. How far we have come in some ways.

Perhaps one day, we will all learn to accept those with a different sexual orientation the way we once had to learn to accept those of a different ‘racial orientation’. Today it is time to dream a different dream.

2. Different beliefs

It is not what goes on in the world that causes nations to go to war. It is what goes on in our heads. When different belief systems make us think in terms of “them” and “us”, it is easy to reject those who are not us.

The first step to acceptance is understanding. When we can understand another person’s beliefs, we start to comprehend his words and actions. And we can eventually accept that this person is striving, just like we are, to do what he truly thinks is best.

When is the last time you made a genuine effort to understand someone who subscribes to a different belief system from yourself? Can you concede that that person may have a kernel of truth you don’t possess?

The ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function is the sign of a truly intelligent person.

– F Scott Fitzgerald

3. Different culture

With more people living and working outside their own countries and culture, the difficulties of adjusting to a different culture are increasingly apparent today. It can be challenging to accept that others have a different way of doing things, and that your way is not necessarily the best way.

When there is a clash of cultures, do you compare the way things are in a new place to the way they are ‘back home’? Is your initial, spontaneous thought to learn about the new way and see its advantages, or do you tend to teach others how to do things your way instead?

Much of the violence that humanity suffers in our times is rooted in misunderstanding as well as in the rejection of the values and identity of foreign cultures.

– Pope John Paul II

4. Different personality

On a more personal level, do you accept those with different personality types from yours? If you are a driven choleric, do you find a phlegmatic person ‘lazy’ or can you appreciate his laid-back calmness? If you are serious and melancholic, are you annoyed by the bubbly sanguine’s non-stop chatter or are you glad that she brings life to the project?

It is easy to love people in an abstract sense, but difficult to love a real person who is getting on your nerves. True acceptance is when you no longer reject aspects of the other person that you don’t like. And we can only accept others once we have fully accepted ourselves.

Ask someone to give a description of the personality type which he finds most despicable, most unbearable and hateful, and most impossible to get along with, and he will produce a description of his own repressed characteristics – a self-description which is utterly unconscious and which therefore always and everywhere tortures him as he receives its effect from the other person. These very qualities are so unacceptable to him precisely because they represent his own repressed side; only that which we cannot accept within ourselves do we find impossible to live with in others.

– Edward Whitmont

5. Different gender

Closer to home, can you accept that your spouse or partner is different from you? Can you truly accept this and see them for who they are instead of who you want them to be?

We are attracted to someone of the opposite gender precisely because they are different from us, and yet that difference causes us to clash with the very person we want most to bond with. Just because a person thinks differently from us, or loves us in their own way instead of the way we want them to, does not mean that they are wrong.

A woman means by unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others. Thus each sex regards the other as basically selfish.

– C S Lewis

Learning to accept others who are different – without judgment, without annoyance, without trying to change them – may be a lifetime struggle. We just need to keep working on it.