How we respond to those who are different from us
Man among people
“I have the impression that all my friends suddenly started to quarrel,” 25-year-old Svetlana shares her observations. – From methods of earning to political views, any topic becomes acute. I am not comfortable with this, I try to maintain neutrality, but I already understand that I cannot reconcile everyone. It’s a pity to lose friends. ” Many people experience similar sensations today.
If earlier, in Soviet times, it still seemed that the majority adhered to one point of view, today the differences in opinions are obvious. “The Tatar family is renting an apartment next to me,” says 60-year-old housewife Varvara. “At first I was against it, I even went to the house management and now I’m used to it: they are quiet, they only speak with an accent.”
The neighborhood is not always so peaceful. “My friends often talk about those who have come in large numbers, scold them,” acknowledges 32-year-old unemployed Nikolai. “Nonresident people do not bother me, but I don’t want to argue.” In addition to nonresident people, there were foreigners, non-believers, dissenters in our history … One way or another, the question of how to relate to those other than us — by opinion, faith or ethnicity — still stands today, if not sharply, then clearly.
Encountering what is foreign to us, we can respond in one of two ways: fear or curiosity
The situation in Russia can be called unique: over the past decades, the system of values has changed several times in society. But similar processes are taking place in the world. No wonder the results of elections in the United States surprised many. “We are experiencing extreme polarization,” said Esther Perel, a sexologist and family psychotherapist. She reflects on how important it is to create a space for a secure dialogue: “Breaking up relationships when people can no longer communicate with each other is at the center of my work. I help them listen to each other, acknowledge that their experience is worthy of respect, and communicate “over the barriers”. Today, the world needs us to re-discuss what is happening in it. ”
To make such a conversation possible, we have to understand how we ourselves relate to the differences between us and other people and how able we can overcome them.
Two ways to meet another
“Other” can be a partner, relative, colleague, neighbor or compatriot. When we encounter what is foreign to us, we can respond in one of two ways: fear or curiosity.
“Depending on whether you feel threatened or safe, your body will either be tense or relax,” explains Esther Perel. Stress indicates a “hit or run” reaction. Even if we force ourselves to stay and chat, it is unlikely that we will be able to conduct a productive dialogue. The relaxation reaction, on the contrary, makes it possible to learn something new, be interested in another person, hear and understand him, and also calmly express your opinion.
Why do we perceive others as a threat? “Fear is the result of insecurity,” says Inna Shifanova, a family psychologist. – We learn about military operations in different places almost every day, and the crisis situation calls into question our social security. We accumulate anxiety in ourselves, because we cannot react to it: we cannot argue with the television, superiors, and society. And we cannot run away from them either. But when in our real environment we encounter someone whose views and habits do not coincide with ours, we project the accumulated tension on this person or the whole group. ” And, accordingly, we either attack (using words) or run away in the literal and figurative sense.
“If we set ourselves the task of reacting more consciously and developing our curiosity, then there are two ways to do this,” Inna Shifanova continues, “the first is to try to learn as much as possible about the other, and the second is to learn as much as possible about yourself.”
Four questions to yourself
To learn more about something else, we need a reason: we cannot learn in advance about all cultures and attitudes. But what we can definitely do right now is to explore our own attitude towards otherness. And if you want to develop a more comprehensive approach to other cultures, races, religions.
Esther Perel suggests starting with four questions we can ask ourselves:
- What messages did you receive in your family regarding the “other”? Encouraged you to learn more about them? Or were you taught not to trust them or not to pay attention to them?
- Did you grow up in an environment that was racially, ethnically, economically, and religiously homogeneous? Or did you grow up in a mixed environment, from your point of view?
- What do you first notice in others today – their resemblance to you or their difference from you?
- What was your experience when you were in the minority – compared to when you belonged to the majority?
To feel more confident, we also need the knowledge that many differences, even fundamental ones, are not insurmountable at all. And the example of other people can convince us of this.
Esther Perel says so about his experience: “Many people know me from my work in the field of sexuality. But for the first 24 years of my work in psychology, I studied cross-cultural characteristics, mainly relations between people of different races, ethnic tension, marriages between those from different cultures and religions, issues of immigration and the “habitat” of a new culture.
For several decades, I worked with groups and couples to help overcome conflicts and disputes. In Montreal, I worked with teachers and students in public schools to resolve tensions between students from Haiti and Quebec. In Belgium, I held workshops on Jewish identity, which brought together ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews. In the United States, I worked with rabbis, teachers, philanthropists, and families for ten years to help the Jewish community accept interfaith families. ”
Sometimes, the help of a professional intermediary is required to establish a dialogue. But sometimes we can do something ourselves. Wellbeing specialist Elizabeth Lesser offers an extremely easy way – invite someone with whom you disagree for breakfast and ask him three questions:
- Could you share some of your life experiences with me?
- What topics deeply concern you?
- What did you always want to ask a person from the opposite camp?
“After that,” says Elizabeth Lesser, “all your work is to listen.” Perhaps it is in such an experience – patient and peaceful attention to something else – that we now need most.