A hit single from the Disney film Pocahontas, Colours Of The Wind has the following verse:
You think the only people who are people are the people who look and think like you. But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger you’ll learn things you never knew, you never knew.Stephen Schwartz
Society encourages us to surround ourselves with people who look, think and act just like ourselves. We may brazenly say that life would be boring if everyone was the same but if you think about it, who’s on your social media feed? Who do you stop and talk to in the street? What hobbies do you take part in? You might think that you try to accept people who’re different but if that’s the case why do so many of us still feel like we need to hide who we are to fit in?
During the Covid-19 pandemic I felt frustrated when people didn’t follow the government guidelines. I shared information about social distancing etc but I was calling into an echo-chamber; everyone I spoke to agreed it was important because we understood the science. There was limited point in trying to educate people who were already educated because most of my friends or followers felt similarly exasperated.
The world is becoming more divided by the second but history tells us this doesn’t work. Every time a wall has been build, years later it’s been torn down—the next generation realising that working together simply works better!
But we don’t naturally seek out people who’re different to us. When we’re looking for something to do in our free time, we’re going to choose something we like doing with like-minded people. You’re more likely to find me at knit’n’natter than on the local football field!
I’m not suggesting you have to go off and do something you’re not interested in but where in your life do you see people on the periphery? Could you make time to speak to them? How could you include them? I can guarantee, they will have the most fascinating stories if you actually stop and listen. I love my job as a counsellor because I genuinely come across people from all walks of life.
Is your workplace, church, hobby or group that you attend accessible? And by that, I don’t mean, is there a ramp outside?! I mean, any literature that advertises it, does it show minority groups such as BAME or LGBTQI+? If people don’t see themselves represented, they won’t feel welcome. Would someone with a learning disability be able to understand what goes on? Would someone with with sensory processing difficulties cope with the atmosphere? Are there some adjustments you could make to include these people?
Do you think it’s up to each person to ask for what they need? Or do you think it’s possible to be prepared to include everyone? Do you think it’s impossible to be prepared for every eventuality so we shouldn’t even bother trying?! If someone asked you to make adjustments how would you feel? Would you request someone jump through hoops? (Heads up, this leads to horrendous marginalisation.)
Let me ask you this…
Do you feel energised by a conversation where people are all making the same points over and over and all agreeing with each other? Or is it more exciting for people to add new things to the conversation you didn’t know about? You’ll only get this if you seek out people who’re different from you!
Are you someone who’s desperate to get their point across and get their voice heard or do you like to hear other voices? Do you surround yourself with loud voices? Are there people you rarely hear from? Try surrounding yourself with listeners—they have far more valuable things to say, they’ve been listening to people their whole lives!
Be honest with yourself about whether you really do value other people’s opinions…
Embracing difference, isn’t just about being prepared to include people, it’s about respecting and encouraging people for being their true authentic selves. This can mean making radical decisions about the language you use your mind set.
How would you feel if someone gave you an honest answer to the question “How’re you?”? We ask this question many times a day, but do you ever mean it? Check out this blog for the benefits of being honest with each other.