WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
By Garry Stephanson
We tend to pride ourselves for the outstanding advancements we've
made since mankind first walked on two legs and discovered that
opposing thumbs were advantageous. While this may be true in many
areas, technology for example, we are still cursed with one
primordial trait that may lead to the destruction of our much vaunted
civilization - the inborn fear of "DIFFERENCE."
Look at today's sad situation with conflicts of all types raging
worldwide including scrimmages and discrimination even in our own
ever-compromising Canada. One can conclude that generally they owe
their origins to differences which are perceived by the participants
as hostile or threatening. What are these differences? Well,
evidently almost anything which is dissimilar to the observer's norm.
These range from religion, colour, and language, to status and
geography. Frankly, just think of any conceivable deviation from
one's own nature and I'm sure somebody has turned this into an
argument or worse!
Those who make a study of our distant past, and evolution from
the swamps of creation probably have a set answer for this conduct -
tribal protection. Our heavy browed ancestors presumably got some
rude shocks on occasion (rape, pillage, subjugation, death) when they
indiscriminately welcomed strangers to their fold with the result
they came to view outsiders with suspicion and fear. And how did they
recognize a stranger? Anyone of course who was different.
Yet ironically, today we strive for difference as a way of
expressing our individuality. Mind you for teenagers it seems that
difference becomes conformity to a standard deviation just sufficient
to totally aggravate adults, yet emulate all the others in their peer
group! For adults, our clothes, cars, homes, manners, all scream
"Look at me, I'm different!" Superficially we seem to revel in
nonconformity. Yet are these real differences or simply variations
within a locally accepted norm? The latter get my vote.
Problems encountered with those who were different led to another
human trait, the automatic reaction to categorize people from a
comparatively small number of bad experiences and then generalize to
encompass all those in the category. From this came our present day
predilection to stereotype people with few facts on which to base
Describing the problem is relatively easy. Now comes the hard
part. How do we develop our social mores to the same level as our
technology? This won't happen overnight nor should this be expected.
The process will be slow and painful, but it must happen if our
civilization is to succeed. We must backtrack through the steps that
got us into this mess - one step at a time - with the clear
understanding that it may take generations.
Lets start with the basic assumption that all people are
inherently good. How about greeting all new different faces with a
smile and a pleasant "Hi." I have tried this technique over the years
and the results are incredibly satisfying. Almost without exception,
the response has been at least a smile and usually a return greeting.
The lesson here is, "Don't take people at 'face' value." The
sometimes grumpy or hostile looks on those we meet (including those
that are different), are not normally generated by any adverse
actions on our part, but by their inner contemplation of work to do
or problems to face. Simply put, they are wrapped up in their own
thoughts. Also, most people prefer to be the ones greeted rather than
being the greeter. Why? I'm not quite sure but perhaps it is based on
a feeling of insecurity, not wanting to risk being rejected if they
make the first move.
Please be adventurous. Live on the edge and try my suggestion.
I'm positive the results will give you AND the person you greet a
warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Sure, there will be some disappointments,
but the majority of experiences will be positive. We must learn to be
trusting and take the chance of rejection, or worse. Instead of
"DIFFERENCES," concentrate on "SIMILARITIES." Let this then be our
first step toward accepting all people as they really are, not as