Learning to Appreciate Our Differences

We Are All Different

"It is not our differences that divide us.
It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."
Audre Lorde

The U.S. has made significant progress over the past 30 or 40 years to make things fair and equal for its citizens and for those who come here. It’s an important objective for a nation to have, one that we are continuously working to enhance, and hopefully someday soon, we will actually achieve. However, there is a major difference between a state or nation working to create “a level playing field” and what we refer to as life where fairness and equality have never – and will never – exist. It’s very important that you and I understand that life comes with many differences. We each possess "pieces of personal uniqueness" that, if properly recognized and exercised, allow us to accomplish something special with our lives.

First, we have our physical differences – zillions of us walking around on this planet and no two alike. Even in the case of identical twins, significant differences start to reveal themselves by the age of one, and by their teenage years twins typically develop into two totally different people. Obviously, gender differences, sexual preferences and the colors of our skin vary widely and add to the uniqueness that we enjoy as individuals. The differences go on from there – we talk differently, we think differently, we have different interests, we’re motivated differently, we have wide-ranging emotional differences, we come in different sizes and we have different goals and dreams for our lives.

We are all different…we need to understand and celebrate that fact.

Making Something Special with What You Have

One of the early handicaps that people can put on themselves is to look at someone else’s individual characteristics and start to feel that they are left out to some degree.

Not as pretty, not as smart, not as funny, not as rich, not as friendly…we’ve all experienced feelings like these at some point during our lives. However, even if we excel in one of these categories, that alone would never bring us happiness or fulfillment.

To get the most out of our lives, we must recognize, accept and appreciate the fact that we are each "one of a kind.". We must recognize that we are a unique package of physical, emotional and mental qualities, and realize that it’s how we use this package, no matter what is in it, that allows us to make a difference in the world.

The Life of Mattie Stepanek

Mattie Stepanek died of muscular dystrophy at the age of 13. He spent most of his life in a wheelchair and, in his last few years, required supplemental oxygen and blood transfusions on a regular basis. His three older siblings died from this same disease and his 44-year-old mother was experiencing the adult version of the same condition when he died. By any definition, Mattie was dealt a bad hand.

But, Mattie chose to play his hand to the best of his ability, and, as such, accomplished much during his short life. He maintained a positive attitude, always smiled and always showed enthusiasm to those around him. He wrote poetry and published five books including the New York Times best-seller Heartsongs. He appeared on many national TV shows and was the National Goodwill Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Jerry Lewis said this about him, “With Mattie, there was always a silver lining. Life threw its worst at him, and he responded by only seeing the good.”

There were more than 1,300 people at Mattie’s funeral. Oprah Winfrey spoke and described how Mattie had impacted her life. In his eulogy, President Jimmy Carter made this observation, “I have traveled to more than 120 countries, met many kings and queens, but Mattie was the most extraordinary person I have ever met.”

We’re not all like Mattie, but we can all learn to make good choices like he did.

Celebrating the Opportunities that Freedom Provides

For those of us who live in the U.S., our freedom, regardless of our personal or economic differences, provides us with almost unlimited opportunities to develop our uniqueness into a life based on our own personal interests and motivations. In addition, there are many countries around the world that offer similar freedoms and opportunities to their citizens. Unfortunately, there are still places where such freedoms do not exist. But, make no mistake, free men and women will always fight to give those people the same freedoms that they enjoy.

So, what does “having the opportunity” really mean? 

It means having the ability to make choices, to decide for yourself how you will think, what you will say and what you will do. The opportunity that freedom provides is, in effect, a launching platform for your life. It puts you in a position and gives you the time to look at yourself, to look at the world and to decide what you will do with your life. The actual outcome--what you do with this opportunity--is up to you

As indicated above, there are many people in this world who live in situations where their freedom is limited and they have few choices that they can make. Therefore, you must value the opportunities that YOU have. Don’t waste the opportunity that freedom provides to you. Secondly, you are unique and different. Celebrate that fact and carefully consider your interests and motivations as you work to develop a personal pathway for your life. 

And, it’s never too late for you to start charting a new pathway of your own.

The Life of Grandma Moses

Anna Mary Robertson Moses was better known to the world as Grandma Moses, a woman who didn't begin to paint until the age of 76, when her hands became too crippled by arthritis to hold an embroidery needle. Even after a long life spent working on farms, she found herself unable to sit around and do nothing.

Grandma Moses never had any formal art training -- indeed, she had very little formal education at all -- but she painted every day, turning out more than a thousand paintings in 25 years. When an art collector passing through her town saw the paintings, he arranged for them to be shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City…and the rest is history as they say.

Even with her newfound fame, her topics remained the same: nostalgic, colorful scenes of farm life, such as the first snow or a maple sugaring. By the time of her death, she had paintings in museums as far away as Vienna and Paris.

Your "painting" might be a volunteer project that you’ve been interested in, or a nonprofit that would benefit from your involvement. It might be a young student who needs to be tutored after school, or an older person that would welcome your visit a couple of times a week. It could be a change in attitude toward some family member, or starting that new business you’ve been thinking about for years. No question, what ever it is, your choices can lead you there.

Look and feel what’s going on inside of you...then look for a way you can use that feeling to help others…and, when these two things match up…bingo!

Why All of this Uniqueness?

As stated, we are all unique and different, but, what is the significance of that fact? 

Not an easy question to answer, but one that we should definitely stop and think about, and in doing so, we should try to understand the advantages or reasons behind all of us being so different. The answer or explanation presented here is strictly mine, and is not offered to you as a universal truth. However, it’s good for all of us to think about why we are here and to consider how our lives might relate to one another.

Okay, here we go…

In one of our previous articles...

Misunderstandings About Life: It Will All Work Out Someday,

...we put forth the idea that you must focus your life on others – not on yourself – if you want to gain a feeling of satisfaction and meaning from the days you spend here. In other words, we are not here for ourselves, but rather here for each other. The basic purpose of our lives is to help others and to work to make their life more enjoyable. In spite of this point, many people remain focused on themselves – their feelings, their possessions, their experiences – for years and years only to find that such focus never results in true happiness. If you are on a track like this and want to change your life, simply move your focus from yourself to others and get out and help as many people as you can this week, this month, this year, this life.

Hold that thought for a moment… 

The fact that we are all unique and different creates a community in which we are able to do many different things in support of the individuals who are a part of our city, our nation and our world. Therefore, these differences are very important.

For example, if every single one of us wanted to be a doctor, we might have very short wait times at the doctor’s office, but who would sell us our groceries, or fix our cars, or fly our planes, or protect our country or…well, you get the idea. Our differences take care of this problem and work for the overall good of all people. Therefore, there is good reason to celebrate our differences even if we don’t fully understand the reason for them.

Okay, let’s keep going…

In my way of thinking, there is an intended life for each of us, and your unique qualities and interests are the clues to it. I’m not saying that your life has been pre-planned and that your exact role was predetermined for you at birth. These things could be true – I don’t know – but that’s not what I’m saying here. I’m saying a couple of things – one, that it’s intended for you to live your life for others and that, if you only live for yourself, you will miss the real purpose of living. In addition, I’m saying that there is an individual inside of you with interests, abilities, insights, knowledge and feelings that are unique, and you are expected to take these ingredients and turn them into someone special.

The Life of Akiba

When Akiba was on his death bed, he bemoaned to his rabbi that he felt he was a failure. His rabbi moved closer and asked why. Akiba confessed that he had not lived a life like Moses. He began to cry, admitting that he feared God’s judgment. At this, the rabbi leaned into his ear and whispered gently, “God will not judge Akiba for not being Moses. God will judge Akiba for not being Akiba.”  From the Talmud

It’s Not about Fair and Equal, It’s about You

So, if you expect the world to be fair with you, let me tell you this…

Give up on that thought right now because it will never happen.

If you think that you and your circumstances should be equal to that of others around you, let me remind you, there is no chance that will ever be. Liberty and freedom create a playing field, not guarantees or equality. If you spend your life "wishing you were like someone else," you will be wasting your opportunity to live your life - and missing your chance to realize your own unique potential.

Once again, life comes down to choices. How you decide to use the opportunities that you have – whatever they might be – is up to you.

Choose not the easy way, 
or what other people do.
But choose that very special route, 
that was designed especially for you.

Written By Michael Nelson

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Liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or human happiness. Isaiah Berlin