It is currently very fashionable in our society to celebrate difference and diversity, and most of us genuinely believe we do. However, when it comes down to the hard-hitting realities of our everyday lives, most of us would rather fill our world with people just like us. This thought is distasteful and almost unacceptable today, since its logical conclusion is hate-filled racism and bigoted intolerance, but it struck me when I was thinking about relationships with our nearest and dearest, especially family and spouses or lovers.
Most of us have some kind of fantasy of a perfect partner and often waste years of our lives searching for him or her, often killing off perfectly good relationships in the process. Usually that perfect partner is someone very similar to us, but much sexier! When we think we may have found someone quite close to it, we get together and both tend to go along with each other and agree with each other on most things, really trying to fool ourselves that we are so very well-suited. But after a while, we start to see more and more differences. They just do not act in the way we think they should, and usually that means in the way we would, or like to think we would. At first these differences may be charming, then irritating and as they mount up and accumulate, sometimes maddening and that is when the rows begin. We try to make them think and behave like us and naturally they react badly to this and the differences are exaggerated still further. After all, they think we should behave as they do! Sometimes if the case is really justified, or if one partner is particularly keen to please, one or other partner may make a lot of effort to be accommodating and things may improve, but sooner or later, old ways and differences will come to the fore again. And so they should, because while compromise is often stated as the panacea for relationships, it is usually done grudgingly and is nowhere near as successful as genuine acceptance of difference.
I have struggled like this in many relationships, but now I have learnt to truly embrace difference and accept and love my partner purely for who she is, perfect in every way, as we all are deep down. We could hardly be more different and it has been a struggle, but worth the perseverance, and that is the key to truly celebrating difference and diversity in all its forms. It does not come overnight, or merely by saying the right words. It takes a lot of hard work and a genuine change in attitude with which we recognise that nobody is just like us. Everybody reacts in their own way to the world around them, and if we sometimes find those ways challenging, then we need to challenge them. If we can do this without passing judgement, then so much the better, but it will get us nowhere pretending they do not exist. On the other hand, separatism and messy divorces will only make things worse, with the one exception of a violent, abusive partner or oppressor. The key is maximum, continued exposure, deep listening and compassionate speech. Eventually we will all understand each other, then respect each other and eventually, really cherish our differences. These days, I think it would be quite boring to be together with a partner who thinks and behaves just like me and sees the world as I do. Such a partner would be little more than a mirror to reinforce my own vanity and confirm all my narrow-minded opinions and ideas and vice versa, boosting our collective ego in the battle of us against the world, in exactly the same way as the members of insular, xenophobic and monochrome societies reinforce their collective behaviour; perhaps a cohesive force within the relationship or community, but for the world at large, a definite destructive force. What would I learn from that? How would I grow? Who would challenge my beliefs and patterns of behaviour in my daily life, and who would expose me to such a rich tapestry of delights? No longer a fantasy for me, I can honestly say, with all my heart, difference and diversity really are things worth cherishing.