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How do we change hearts and minds so that we can appreciate our differences instead of pretending they don’t exist?

How do we change hearts and minds so that we can appreciate our differences instead of pretending they don’t exist?

We are designed to connect with one another. We are also designed to be afraid of new and different things. Both aspects of our reality are important for survival.

Often, our fears are unfounded. The chances are extremely low that I will ever be lion lunch. It’s okay to dive off the high dive. And oysters actually taste good.

We humans have a long and heart-breaking history of being afraid of each other. We have owned, killed, raped, beaten, jailed, interred, and abused either other. The response to any perceived threat has been to conquer or eliminate. As far as I can tell, it’s usually been about “my God is better than your god,” or “I want your stuff,” usually both.

When we look around, there is lots to be afraid of. Earth has the human variety pack, with so many different colors, languages, rituals, beliefs, and customs. We each think our way, the one we are familiar and comfortable with, is the right way. If it’s not the only way, at least ours is best.

Maybe we have carefully considered and adopted our belief system. Even that does not make us immune to bias and marginalizing people who disagree with us. Sometimes, the most liberal are also the most militant and quick to impose their way on everybody else. (I am constantly in trouble for throwing things away in the wrong container at Whole Foods by the self-appointed Green Police.) Righteous intolerance of any type of intolerance is as full of assumptions about what is the way to do things as any other rigid belief.

Then there is discrimination against others because of who they are or what they look like. Not all discrimination is illegal. Illegal discrimination generally applies to decisions involving employment, housing, and some kinds of business relationships. Our legal policies protect against discrimination based on race, gender, religion and the other protected classes because these things are immutable characteristics — things we didn’t choose and can’t really change about ourselves. So we don’t deprive people of jobs, or places to live, or the ability to obtain services because of the color of their skin or the name of their god.

On the other hand, people really are different. Men and women are physically different. People have different cultural identities, accents, food, holidays, traditions, and celebrations. We have different histories, values, and many different ways of doing things. And all of these things can be completely independent of race, gender, religion or who we love. 

These differences are important. I want to be seen and known for who I am, not based on your assumptions and judgments about who I am.

Equal opportunity does not mean treating everyone like a 50 year-old white guy. It means appreciating people for who they actually are.

Discrimination is based on fear of what we don’t know, and certainty about assumptions that are wrong.

How do we help people to stop being scared and to let go of rigid views about things they don’t know?  How do we change hearts and minds so that we can appreciate our differences instead of pretending they don’t exist?

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