Imagine living in a world where you are appreciated for the unique strengths you bring to the table. Where you are an invaluable piece of the puzzle in every area of your life, and where not only are your strengths fully utilised, but you are replenished by the joy you get from activating and engaging them. Imagine both understanding where your contribution fits in and being surrounded by those who trust and welcome that contribution.
Doesn’t that sound like a vortex of energy creation and growth? It would certainly satisfy many of our human needs – needs such as feeling productive and being part of something bigger than ourselves.
What if living in a world like that was a simple as flipping a coin?
What if you didn’t even have to flip the coin? What if you could actually choose which way the coin landed? Live in a world of cohesion, collaboration, acceptance, and appreciation; or live in a world of division, irritation, fear and other such energy-draining emotions.
Personally, I believe it really is that simple.
Simple is not always easy. But simple is a start. Simple suggests that changing our world is as simple as changing our mindset and acknowledging that we can choose the opposite side of the coin. What might making that choice look like?
One of our most overriding human needs is to survive. Our survival instinct is deeply programmed into the oldest part of our brain where our fight or flight response hangs out. This part of our brain is programmed to look for threats, and we do that most effectively by looking for how others are different from us. We look for differences so that we can protect ourselves against them and stop them undermining us. We advocate for a world that looks the way we think it “should” because we accept that “same” equals “safe”. We look for differences in appearance, attitude, value system, methodology, language – and we judge different to be bad. We “protect” ourselves from differences by displaying irritation, disdain, and distance.
We do it when our teenagers try and explain something to us that we don’t personally understand or value. We do it when an in-law expresses an opinion different from the one our immediate family holds. We do it when confronted by a beggar at the traffic lights. We do it when a colleague in another department doesn’t provide the information we need or share our viewpoint instantly. We do it when we write off the complaints of those who receive our service. We do it when we disregard the different layers of our broader community and look at them as somehow deficient.
Whilst there is something to be said for using this part of our brain intuitively, our brains have come a long way since our caveman ancestors assessed their world of relative simplicity for threats. Our world, our experiences and thankfully, our brains, have developed considerably since then – becoming multi-layered and far more colourful. Our brains have developed an appreciation for language, emotion, rational and higher thinking. And yet many of us choose to hang out in the caveman part of our brain that only looks for differences as a way to assess threat.
What if we practiced actively switching every day to the more advanced parts of our brain that can appreciate multi-layered rational? What if, instead of threat analysis that leaves us irritated by everyone else’s differences, we focused on building that world I described in the first paragraph? A world strengthened by the multi-layered contribution of uniquely gifted individuals – you being one of them.
What if we started to view each other with curiosity and the assumption that each of us is part of the greater puzzle? What if we started conversations that explored what each of us brought to the table and where our common ground was as well as our differences? What if we viewed that common ground as our anchor, and our differences as our unique gifts to the greater whole? What if we considered each person’s different perspective as a gift to us all being able to see and understand a broader horizon?
What if we sought to understand the viewpoint, perspective and contribution of others more deeply before allowing the way they go about things to frustrate us? What if we talked more freely with others to find out what their needs are and how we can satisfy them BEFORE we told them what we need from them?
What if we went about each day seeking to build a relationship BEFORE we actually needed to call on that relationship to solve a problem? What if we were strong enough to accept that we don’t know what we don’t know until we become vulnerable enough to ask others what that might be? What if we claimed strength and vulnerability, communication, appreciation, collaboration and understanding actively – instead of choosing division, frustration, irritation, alienation, self-protection and exhausting threat analysis?
Martin Luther King Jr said, “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
We can choose to reverse engineer that. We can choose to communicate with each other with the genuine intention of getting to know each other better. Not because we need each other to serve our individual purpose, but because it’s possible we each serve the purpose of the greater whole. Knowing each other better helps us understand each other better. Understanding each other better helps us know where our common ground is and how we fit together. It gives us an overview of what each of us brings and how we can help each other to make what we build together better and more.
Imagine what it might feel like to replace your daily irritation at other people with curiosity. Seeking to understand before we act would save us much wasted energy and ensure our best intentions are properly aimed and correctly received.
Consider, today, how much of your frustrated energy drain is because someone else does something differently to how you do it. Or because the energy and intention you contributed have not hit the nail or been appreciated. Then consider that these outcomes are choices you make to limit your understanding, and that you can choose to make different ones with different outcomes. You can choose to communicate in a way that seeks connection and growth. You can choose to understand the perspective and thinking of others because it might broaden your appreciation of them, and feeling appreciation is SO much better than feeling irritation.
You can choose to be a part of building that world where everyone is seen, understood and appreciated, rather than perpetuating the world where everyone is different, and where different is irritating and bad.
Assume that everyone brings value – and experiment with testing that theory by choosing to broaden your perspective and learn. Find one person this week who is different in a way you don’t understand, and ask them about themselves in a genuine attempt to broaden your perspective and find appreciation.
by Christen Killick
August 16th, 2021