“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” –Audre Lorde
In middle school I had a teacher that said “it’s not wrong, it’s different.” She lived this philosophy and urged her students to do the same. She genuinely believed that when it came to opinions, beliefs and ways of doing things there was no right or wrong, only different. Thinking in such a way enabled her to accept and love other people as well as learn from them.
In today’s world it seems that differences are solely divisive, rather than a foothold for connection. Political parties fight to have the last word instead of working together to do what’s best for the majority. Those with disabilities are mocked and often regarded as incapable of living fulfilled lives. The color of your skin alone can get you shot.
As humans, it is natural to be afraid of what we don’t know. So often we find it easier to condemn rather than try to understand. But why do we find it hard to accept that not everyone thinks, acts, or is just like us? We are egocentric beings with prejudices. As noted by Marilyn Brewer and David Campbell (Ethocentrism and Intergroup Attitudes: East African Evidence), inner-group chauvinism is a natural phenomena that causes one to rank people such as themselves above those displaying obvious differences. Some argue that such prejudice once served as a survival mechanism. For example, being able to discern between people from opposing tribes could save your life and the lives of the rest of your family group. These days though, with no entire assemblage posing a distinct threat, such discrimination is unnecessary and detrimental.
Imagine a world in which every ethnic, religious or otherwise distinguished group kept to itself. There would likely be little to no conflict due to the absence of interaction but more drastically, there would be no dispersion of knowledge and ideas. The modern world wouldn’t understand algebra (invented by the Muslims), we wouldn’t use paper currency (first used by the Hans) and books would be rare and expensive without the printing press (made popular in Europe). In fact, there wouldn’t be one modern world.
That is a bleak and radical example but it gets the point across. Without dealing with those that are different than you, without being politely curious about someone else’s individuality we cannot advance as a whole. We cannot learn. We cannot better ourselves and the world around us.
Embrace the uniqueness you embody and the uniqueness of those you meet. Ask questions. Do research. Love one another. Accept that differences are normal and vastly important.
Normalizing differences is what allows a girl to wear her scoliosis brace on the outside of her clothes without fear of ridicule, what allows one to practice religion freely and to admit party affiliations. It is what lets us love ourselves as well as others and what moves humanity positively forward. It is a movement that starts with you.
Lead Image Credit: Paul DuFour Via unsplash.com