Many of us believe that when we acknowledge others’ rights to their beliefs, and life choices, we are showing respect. I’d like to suggest that respect goes beyond tolerance to appreciation.
While tolerance lessens friction and minimizes the likelihood of violent confrontation, it’s hardly reaches the level of genuine care and concern for others or their feelings. I have, as I’m sure you have, seen people who acknowledge the rights of others, but with such disdain as to make their gesture disingenuous. So while they may believe that they’re being tolerant, they are in fact being disrespectful.
But when you learn to appreciate the diversity of beliefs and lifestyle choices, that’s when you actually show respect.
People who are deeply religious who discuss alternative views of religion and spirituality, not with the intent to persuade but to learn, are truly showing respect. These people appreciate alternative viewpoints and lifestyles as both a way to gain a new perspective on life and to discover the commonality of beliefs rather than differences.
All the major religions that I’m aware of have love as a central theme. They encourage genuine care and concern for each other and encourage us to overcome our baser instincts. It’s that commonality, when discovered, that enables us to appreciate others’ beliefs and learn from them.
In a similar fashion when I meet someone from the LBGTQ communities, I’m reminded that love takes many forms. The love I feel for my wife is different than that I feel for my parents, my siblings, dear friends and kind acquaintances. Yet the joy love brings is the same for all of these types of love. So why would it be different for people in these communities?
The more I explore with them their lifestyles, the more similarities I see. The more similarities I see, the greater my understanding of human nature and, hence, the greater my ability to help others overcome the challenges they face.
When I am able to help others, my life has value. You too never feel better about yourself than when you’ve just helped make someone’s life better.
The next time you meet someone whose beliefs, or lifestyle, are dramatically different than yours, explore commonalities between your beliefs and theirs. Do so with a desire to learn, not persuade, and you’ll find that you not only show them the respect they’re due, you earn respect for yourself as well.
For our kids
A natural tendency we possess by virtue of our humanity is that we tend to fear what’s unfamiliar. When you see fear or disdain rising in your kids because they’ve encountered something foreign to them, encourage them to learn more about the subject.
Ask them questions that enable them to see alternatives to their current beliefs. Through your questions they’ll discover the commonality of their beliefs and those of others which will make the differences less frightening, less threatening to them.
Over time they’ll learn to appreciate alternative viewpoints which will help them grow personally and professionally. They’ll discover their power to help others and, in doing so, find their real value as a human being. What greater gift could you give them?
For both you and your kids I recommend Anne Perry’s novel, An Echo of Murder. It’s a murder mystery that highlights the emotions of people in communities where immigrants are changing the nature of the community. Ms. Perry offers powerful insights into our human nature. Kids 8 to 10 years of age are mature enough to understand the emotions described in her book.
One of the added benefits of discovering that respect is more than tolerance, is that it boosts your confidence. Once you no longer feel threatened by differences, you become more confident. I love getting multiple benefits from the same effort. Enjoy!