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 this action.

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 stereotypes.

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