Monthly Archives: March 2019

How our differences can bring us together


It is not our differences that divide us.

It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.

~Audre Lorde~

In my previous article I wrote about whether our differences can bring us together. Now I would like to consider how this might happen. At first glance it might seem like an impossible task. We seem more polarized each day and pulled to extreme positions. This only causes resentments, hard feelings and is destructive to any sense of unity. What would it take to reverse this trend?

I think the key lies in how we look at and think about ourselves and others. Don Miguel Ruiz suggested four agreements we should make with ourselves based on Toltec Indian practices. His son, Don Jose Ruiz added a fifth agreement. I have written about these in the past as well.  Lets consider how these agreements might guide us in our interactions with others and help us use our differences constructively.

The first agreement is to be impeccable with your word. This means saying what you mean and meaning what you say. It also involves speaking only the truth. Lies lead to mutual distrust. We will never reach agreement with others if we lie to them.

The second agreement is to not take anything personally. We must remember that people say and do things for their own purposes, whether they are expressing their beliefs or working toward what is important to them. They are not out to attack you unless you both agree to be in conflict. Remember that you are also acting in your own best interest and are not out to harm anyone either.

The third agreement is to not make assumptions. Sometimes we are tempted to think others believe the same way we do or just the opposite. Do you like it when someone assumes things about you? If you find yourself with such assumptions, find a gentle way to check them out and don’t start an argument or war in the process.

The fourth agreement is to always do your best. Don’t expect perfection from yourself or from others. Do the best you can. If someone disagrees with your approach, try listening first and explaining second.

The fifth agreement is to be skeptical but learn to listen. You are not always right and neither is anyone else. It’s okay to question your own opinions as well as those of others. What is the evidence on which you both base your beliefs? Can you hear each other out without attacking? It takes practice.

There is a tradition passed on by several thinkers. Before you speak, it is wise to ask yourself if what you want to say is true (agreement 1), whether it is necessary (agreement 5) and whether what you have to say is kind (agreement 4). This does not mean that you need to examine every word that comes out of your mouth, but it suggest that you need to pay attention to what you say and the effect of your words on others.

Even more important than what you say is how you listen. If you are thinking of ways to counteract everything you hear, it will be a short conversation. How different would it be if you were to listen carefully and ask for clarification of anything you don’t understand or with which you do not agree.

If you can do this with everyone you meet and others can do the same with you, we will have made a good start toward resolving our differences. Give it a try.

Can our differences bring us together?

If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.
~Franklin D. Roosevelt~


Does this seem like a strange question? We usually try to think of ways to get along with others despite our differences not because of them.  Or you might decide to dismiss those who disagree with you in order to avoid having to deal with conflict. Is it possible to use our differences as a way to relate to each other?
What if everyone thought the same way? Wouldn’t this create a bland and boring world? We would soon become complacent and accept everything as it is, ignoring the possibility that changes might be needed or even possible. But maybe the world is perfect already. This is not likely given the evidence before us on a daily basis. This is not the case now and it will not come about by chance.
The only way to live peacefully in the world we have now is to stop thinking and wondering to ourselves whether things could be better and do what we can to help create a better world. It would presume that everyone is equal and is treated as such.

Many of us share the same dreams. We would like to live in peace, have decent living space, enough food, be able to provide for our children and prepare them to eventually make their own way in life. No argument there. I can’t imagine that anyone would consciously try to prevent someone else from pursuing these goals.
Yet we are not all the same. Some of us are born into families with parents who know how to work together raising us to live satisfying and productive lives and have the resources to do so. Others have parents who have struggled to survive or may not have learned what it means to be a good parent. Some parents grew up in the shadow of violence or deprivation. It is all they can do to survive themselves.
Some of us learned from their parents that we are all responsible for each other. Others have learned that it is everyone for themselves and that you have to fight for what you want. Still others see the world’s resources as limited and that you have to grab what you want before others get there first.
These observations highlight the differences in how we view life. If you see life as a joint venture, it is much easier to work together toward all of us meeting our needs. If you have been deprived of the necessities, not to mention the joys of life, you might find it hard to think about others’ needs. It may seem like all you can do is take care of yourself.
How do we come together or help each other with our lives if we are all so different? I think we need to start by understanding what past and current life circumstances have been like for each other. It is easier to relate to others with experiences are similar to our own. Getting to know others whose lives have been very different from ours will help us appreciate their struggles. Despite these differences, I think it is the rare person who has not had some times of struggle and challenge making life difficult. The key is to find ways in which our conflicts are similar to those of others and learn about their differing circumstances.
I think the greatest challenge is to understand others who are angry about their misfortune. It will be even harder if you are one of them since you then have your own anger to contend with. Understanding these people might help you appreciate the blessings in your own life or might help you see how others cope with their difficulties. How others cope might provide some lessons for own struggles.
There are some specific ways we can use our differences to come together. I will address these in my next article. Stay tuned.       

If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.
~Franklin D. Roosevelt~