RESPECTING OUR DIFFERENCES
Appreciating the Goodness in Others
If there is one thing that falls into the category of common mistakes, it’s our efforts to be like others. Instead of appreciating our differences, many of us want to change something about ourselves or to dress in a certain way in order to be like those around us. Well, let me share this with you…we were never intended to be “like others.”
We were intended to be unique, to have different skills and abilities, to have different interests and insights, to have different feelings and personalities and to accomplish different things with our lives. And, through our uniqueness we are intended to help others in some special way.
This reflection will help you think about the question “why are we different?” and, as you do, to gain additional respect for other individuals who are working to answer this same question for themselves.
What sets you apart can sometimes feel like a burden, but it’s not.
A lot of the time it’s what makes you great.
Why Are We Different?
Before we address other points applicable to this choice, we’d like to start by providing our answer the question…why are we different? If you and I can develop a perspective about the answer, it will help us appreciate the uniqueness and individuality of those around us…and our own as well.
I must tell you that my answer has a lot to do with what I personally believe about how God works in the world…that is, through unique individuals like you and me. Bottom line, I believe that God’s spirit works in the world through people, not through “lightning bolts” or modern-day miracles. I believe that it is though the love and caring of individuals like you and me that God, in turn, helps and takes care of others. You will have to decide what you believe.
As examples, it is though the work of informed doctors and diligent medical researchers that our health is restored. It is through the work of concerned volunteers that the new Habitat for Humanity house gets built for the family in need. It is through the efforts of loving neighbors that hot meals get delivered to the elderly couple unable to cook for themselves. It is though the helpful work of builders, drivers, parents, teachers, bankers, grocery clerks, dentists, landscapers, and hundreds of other individual roles that God’s spirit works though to take care of you and me.
So, as you can see, it is actually our differences that “make the world work.” As a result, we have the opportunity to use our life to help others in some special way.
Our Uniqueness Carries a Responsibility
Which brings us to another point. Our uniqueness (as reflected in our personal interests, basic skills, and feelings for others) carries a responsibility for us to develop these God-given qualities and use them to help others in some special way. And, by doing so, to help make the world a better place.
This is where your choices come in. You can make the choice to honor this responsibility and get to work to determine the role your uniqueness will play in the world as you live your life. Or, you can simply choose to focus on being accepted by others, having a lot of fun, and not worrying very much about improving the lives of others. But, you and I can’t just sit back and “expect God to do everything.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose insights I have come to greatly respect, explained it to us this way:
We must learn that to expect God to do everything
while we do nothing is not faith, but superstition.
Ultimately, you have to decide how you believe God works in the world, and how you might use your uniqueness and your choices to participate in that work by helping others in your own special way. No question, these are some of the most important decisions you will ever make.
The Need to Show Our Respect
It’s easy for us to say:
"Of course, I like other people.
I don’t think everyone should be just like me.
That would be ridiculous."
However, our attitudes and our actions often tell another story. We make fun of others who are different. We don’t include others who are different from us in our activities. We even judge people based on how they differ from us.
Showing respect for others is a choice. It’s a choice that shows that we understand that the world needs more than one type of person. This choice says you are going to look for the good in another person. This choice can significantly improve your ability to communicate with others because you are willing to listen without letting misconceptions hinder your thinking. It can also increase the opportunities we have to learn and grow as caring human beings. And the bonus for respecting differences? We develop friendships and relationships that we would never have otherwise had.
When it comes to respecting differences, here are three points that you and I should remember:
#1. Showing respect means you honor another person’s journey.
Other people may not yet fully understand the purpose of their life or the role that they are intended to fulfill. In short, they are “on a journey” to determine those things. You and I should be very respectful of those circumstances and always be willing to help others "on their journey" if we can.
#2. Showing respect doesn’t mean that you automatically agree with someone.
Instead, it shows that you have elected to take the high road and to conduct yourself in a proper or professional way regardless of any perceived differences that may exist.
#3. Showing respect creates opportunities for new understanding to develop.
We know from our life experiences that the truth often lies somewhere in between opposing views. Being respectful of differences gives you the opportunity to learn and come to understand other points of view. It doesn’t mean you will always have to change what you believe. It does mean you agree to listen without anger to what another person believes and why they believe it.
Self-Control Is Part of the Process
There is one other point we should keep in mind here . . . it’s the role that self-discipline plays when differences become apparent to us. Respecting differences between ourselves and others is dependent on our ability to be self-disciplined.
If you’re weak when it comes to this personal quality, the more likely you are to become opinionated, sometimes very quickly, about the differences you see or experience with another individual. In other words, it’s a lack of self-control that allows our lack of respect to develop and reveal itself to others.
These are not easy choices to make, but we should work diligently to have control over ourselves and get to know someone before we become disrespectful, whether silently within ourselves or openly in front of others.
A flippant, frivolous man may ridicule others,
may controvert them, scorn them;
but he who has any respect for himself
seems to have renounced the right of thinking meanly of others.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Showing Respect Will Make a Difference in YOUR Life
The choice to be respectful of others will make a big difference in your life. Learning to conduct yourself in a respectful way is, in effect, learning how to view other individuals. You and I need to understand that we need to “see” others with more than just our eyes. Doe Zantamata, author of Happiness in Your Life, reminded us of the importance of viewing others in a broader way with these words:
When I see you through my eyes, I think we are different.
When I see you through my heart, I know we are the same.
We shouldn’t let differences divide us. Why? Because we have a lot of work left to do to fix this world and make it a good and safe place for everyone. We’ll only get that job done by showing respect for each other and working together for the good of all. Our goal should not be to erase differences. It should be to welcome differences and work together respectfully to create a peaceful world that allows all people to use their gifts to make this world a better, healthier and more enjoyable place for everyone.
By Michael L. Nelson and Chris Peppel
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