Accepting Difference

When I sit with a couple as they prepare to get married, one of the discussions we have is how we can learn to accept each other’s differences. A wise counselor told me years ago that it is insanity to expect two people who were raised in different homes, cultures, religions, and communities to automatically live in harmony. Even siblings with the same genetic makeup who are raised in the same household can see the world very differently. We are as unique, it is said, as each snowflake. That individuality cannot be ignored or manipulated to suit the other. And while each person will swear that they aren’t going to force change on the other, we all try to do it. It doesn’t mean we won’t or shouldn’t change; it just means we shouldn’t force it. Think about your own relationships; wouldn’t you admit that most of the friction that exists in them comes from you wanting things done your way (because it’s better)?

This concept works in every relationship, and we would do well at admitting that, while we want things done the way we want them done, that way isn’t necessarily the only, or even best, way to accomplish a task. I remember one physician I know who told me he decided against joining a practice because the founder wanted him to do a particular surgery his way rather than the way this doctor had been taught. Aside from the impracticality of learning a whole new technique, my doctor friend felt that this surgeon was being arrogant and condescending. Believing our way is the only way that might make us feel good about ourselves, but it isn’t necessarily true. And it is destructive to our relationships.

We hold opinions because we think they are correct; I have never met anyone who said that they held a particular belief or opinion that was wrong. This is, of course, why there is so much friction in the world. We vote a particular way; we practice a particular religion; we make lifestyle choices; all because we believe them to be the best or right way to live. And they are – for us. If we don’t talk about our differences of opinion, we end up in turmoil. We yell and carry on and call names; we prophesy doom and destruction. If our path isn’t followed, we promise, the sky will fall. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some choices (like fascism) that lead to devastation and ruin; it just means that most choices don’t.

Which is what Voltaire’s hero Candide discovered. He saw the devastation of religious turmoil and political strife and how these two horses of cultural apocalypse worked together to destroy society. His conclusion was that the world would be a much better place if each person tended their own garden and traded with their neighbor for what each person needed. In other words, work together and accept each other and mind your own business when it comes to personal opinions and life. As long as nobody is being hurt, worry about your own life. Remove the log from your eye, then help your neighbor with the speck in theirs. Live in peace. Get along. And maybe learn something from each other. 

Prayer – Holy God, You have called us to live in community. You have called us to accept each other. Help us to navigate the rocky waves that may come with grace and wisdom. Amen.

Today’s art is called “Conflict” by JudiLynn (2021).