How Are You Dealing With Difference?

difference

I’ve generally kept my political views out of public sight — not as a matter of pride or principal; it is simply good business. I would hate to think that my political views propelled an otherwise inclined person to reject me as their guide through the self-confronting and rewarding process of stepping into one’s authority.

But that choice was much easier before social media, before an intense polarization between parties, candidates, and ideologies was paraded before us via constant stream. It’s harder to keep my opinions invisible, and I find myself struggling in moments like a recent one in which my clicker hovered unsteadily over the Unfriend button, my shallow breathing undermining my attempts to think straight. I was too mad. I clicked, and it was done.

I ejected a generally kind person from a different generation and part of the country from my digital community because, even though she was a part of the same leadership group, she decimated someone I deeply respect and admire. The vehemence in her opinions — which are clearly different from mine — was so strong, I perceived it as hatred. Perhaps it was a form of hatred. But is that a good enough reason to cut a person off — because she feels passionately and differently about a public figure’s actions than I do? I mean, who doesn’t hate some thing, some person, some food? If I reject her, am I just adding to the hate cycle?

In the swamp of my post-Unfriend guilt, I brushed up against these and more questions, questions you might have also found bubbling beneath the surface of our over-heated political climate. Questions like:

Am I supposed to make peace with someone whose views are so different from mine it makes my head spin? Why or why not? Should I open to the truth in another’s perspective, when it appears, at first glance, to be archaic, hateful, foolhardy or deranged?

Perhaps it’s not so important to consider these questions with online acquaintances, but the truth of the matter is — political stances, opinions, and parties aside — these types of polarities may exist Right There in Your Home.

Examples: Your spouse has a very different idea of how to handle money, and you are terrified about your retirement; your teenage son wants to pierce the same innocent baby face you once held tenderly between your palms, in three places; a recent crises means you will have to see your siblings, whose choice of lifestyle makes you wonder if they even really grew up in the same household.

Even if you live alone, you’re not exempt. Your landlord may have very different ideas, for example, about how much heat you should be using (she writes, as she remembers being huddled over her computer with hot tea, seven layers, and a blanket, waiting for someone to come and fix the washing machine which had ice floating in it.)

Difference may in fact be reason to disengage from people and situations, but very few of us have the skills to deal with difference gracefully. There is so much pressure to be a certain way, to fit in, that it isn’t readily taught. We all suffer as a result.

The many strategies for mastering difference are too broad to encompass in a post (although I invite you to put your favorites in the comments, please!), but I have a good starting place: The purpose of a relationship can tell you whether or not it’s worth it. If you have a relationship in mind as you’re reading this, I ask you: what is that particular relationship’s vision or function? Does it have enough reason, joy, commonality and connection to withstand difference? Some differences feel, and in fact may be, irreconcilable. Another’s words and behavior may push you away — temporarily or permanently. If the purpose of a relationship — e.g. being co-parents, business partners, old friends with a rich history of many years, or lovers trying to create a life together — is strong, learning how to manage difference will be necessary to move forward.

Once the vision for a relationship is clear, focusing on the common purpose can orient you away from reckless reactivity and towards connection. Then, you can focus on learning other essential skills such as how to talk about differences, manage your reactions, listen more deeply, and bring true curiosity to who the other is and what makes them tick. There is pleasure in getting to know what forces drive a person you care about (providing they are not a sociopath), and, through deeper understanding, in discovering that their views might be less hateful and deranged than you initially thought.

8 responses to “How Are You Dealing With Difference?”

  1. Alli Polin says:

    Thanks for giving us so much to reflect on in this post, Blair. When it comes to political difference, I do see people crossing the line from difference to hate. I can respect different opinions but generally when it’s less about what they believe and more about spewing hate in someone else’s direction, I’m done.

    However, in relationships, real relationships (with my boss, spouse, friend, colleague) I’m more willing to work to, if not get on the same page, in the same story. I’m willing to listen, give, take and move forward on our shared journey.

    I think with your facebook friend, there is no shared journey, you don’t need to stick around and build on the relationship. You are acquaintances and have learned that some differences are too great to make the leap.

    Thanks for this, Blair. Will share!

    ~ Alli

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Thanks so much for your wisdom, Alli, for making the distinction between what’s worth it and what’s not. And for sharing!

  2. Ric Dragon says:

    So; maybe the problem isn’t the difference (I’m pondering; as I have this same conundrum from time to time. I WANT to be exposed to different ways of thinking, even if they diverge from my own). But how the difference is communicated. Because, let’s face it; we’ve all encountered the expression of SHARED opinions that are shared in such a way as to be cringe-worthy.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Good point, Ric! I would agree that from an ontological perspective, difference is not the problem — it’s our feelings about that are — but these have become synonymous to me. BTW – I’d love an example (if you can give one without compromising your values or peeps) of when same views are expressed in cringe-worthy ways . . .will help us to see more . . .

  3. Forgive me if this has been stated previously, but I believe the crux of the issue is actually the context in which the conversation occurs. We all choose who and what we surround ourselves with on a daily basis: we choose our churches or houses of worship based on shared beliefs; we choose colleges and classes based on whether or not we want to be exposed to a specific method of teaching or thought process; we choose our friends based on which views we have in common (or not). So in this case, the context would be your philosophy on how you use that form of digital community. I personally use Facebook as a way to cultivate friendships and a community that I enjoy. I curate, so to speak, my feed so that it’s a source of enjoyment for me. This isn’t to say that I prefer my feed to be full of rainbows and unicorns, but I don’t want to log into my account only to be bombarded by negativity or small-mindedness. I want to be challenged, I want to laugh, I want to learn, I want to be informed, I want to care, I want to be stretched. I don’t want to be irritated and angry. I can choose what and who I interact with in this medium, whereas I can’t orchestrate my whole life experience; so I friend, unfriend, follow, like and unfollow people and pages constantly. I can’t avoid interacting with unpleasant people or people who I disagree with on a base level in real life, but I can pick my poison in cyberland. Simplistic? Controlling? Maybe. But the context in which I interact with my digital community allows me to do so peacefully.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Nothing wrong with being selective, or control, for that matter. It shows self care, good discrimination and effective time management! You bring up a great point about context . . . although I do think that we have less control over the presence of difference in our personal lives, and that different skills are needed to handle those with more grace.

  4. Blair – Thank you so much for the thought provoking post.

    From the other side of the world I have become increasingly focused on all that when gain from people that have different thoughts and wildly opposing views and more and more passionate about crossing great divides to learn from each other.

    Your post made me pause and consider the difference between wisely engaging in conversations to learn and grow and build bridges and being able to discern where energy is leaking and needs to be refocused.

    Thank you!

  5. Blair Glaser says:

    Dear Chery,
    So nice to hear from you and thanks for your thoughtful reply. It’s nice to know how you are using difference to learn and connect. So glad the post made you think . . .if you have any new insights to share re: “the difference between wisely engaging in conversations to learn and grow and build bridges and being able to discern where energy is leaking,” please do!

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