The Wisdom In Recognizing Our Differences

I came to realize quite a long time ago now that each and every day there are a multitude of things to learn if you are in the moment and recognize the learning opportunities. So it stands to reason that if you spend hours each day in the process of work, it is there you will find those opportunities to gain knowledge all around you. All it takes really is looking for them, being open to the information available, and processing that data.

Happily we’re not all built the same, and therefore it stands to reason we don’t all find the same meaning in these experiences. What one person recognizes and finds interesting, someone else will barely even notice or may dismiss entirely as anything worth paying attention to. There are some people however, who wonder why other people don’t react like they themselves do to what could be a shared experience.

So for example, tell a joke and you’ll find that some may think it hilarious while others might be offended or alternatively just not think it’s funny. Of these three groups of people with their three different reactions, there could be among them in all three groups, people who can’t understand why those in the other two groups don’t feel just like them.

In some situations, people will attempt to present their opinion, change other people’s points of views, get them to see things the same way they do. And make no mistake, there are times when this is necessary and the right thing to do. Organizations will often put out mission statements and principles of behaviour that they expect all employees working in a company to outwardly adhere to and hopefully come to believe at their core. If you hold a different view, you may find yourself being called in to some meeting and having a chat about either conforming or moving on.

But there are other times when it isn’t necessary to persuade or coerce someone else to share your point of view. You might feel and then act on a desire to at least share your opinion or point of view while hearing an alternative view, but then leave it at that. Both people then walk away having a better understanding of what the other is thinking, but each staying true to their own interpretation of events. Can you see how in this later scenario, each benefits because their own views haven’t been challenged, but they both have additional information upon which to consider an alternative point of view.

You may be initially puzzled when you hear someone voice an opinion which is opposition to your own. Could be you previously thought to yourself, “Surely everybody would feel the way I feel on this issue”; only to find out they don’t. Take a politician running for office who reveals her/himself unintentionally by putting down part of the electorate. While you might gasp and brand the person as prejudiced or self-righteous, the person you are speaking with might see the person as being genuine and wish more people in power would actually speak their mind.

The thing is that when we are in situations where others hold views that are different from our own, it is usually a good idea to avoid doing anything else in the beginning other than listening. Listening first and foremost gives us the chance to fully hear correctly what the person is saying and then only after this is done can we really respond intelligently to their comments. To respond any earlier may end up having us make assumptions about what the person was about to say. These leaps we make are sometimes correct but more often not.

The great thing about people who have ideas and opinions which vary from our own is that we can learn. In many situations, they’ve had very different life experience to date than we ourselves, and all of their past experiences have shaped how they now interpret whatever is being discussed. By listening to them in full, it’s possible that the view they hold is based on the sum of those experiences. To then tell them their opinion is wrong would be akin to telling them that their past experiences have led them to make an erroneously conclusion now, or to somehow dismiss as invalid what they’ve previously experienced. And in many situations, there is no right or wrong, it’s more how one interprets things.

Ever been in a discussion with someone and one of you says, “Oh I hadn’t thought of things that way”? Well this could be because the person saying this hasn’t had the other past experiences, and with this new perspective, is open to now seeing things from that point of view. This is a moment of learning.

It is often our differences that make us ultimately more knowledgeable, wiser, better. When we only surround ourselves with others who share our own points of view, there’s a danger in narrow thinking, limited solutions to problems and missed opportunities. Surround ourselves with people who are different or think differently and there’s an ebb and flow of ideas and opinions both ways that can better educate us all.

Recognize and validate those you meet and interact with and you may find yourself growing, possibly changing your previous points of view, or educating others to your own way of thinking on some topics.


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