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This past weekend, I met up with my two brothers in Boulder, Colo.
The three of us are alike in many ways. We have the same mannerisms, sound pretty similar, and we have lots of inside jokes. But my brothers and I also are different. One owns his own marketing firm. The other does commercial real estate. And I’m a family therapy professor. One loves fantasy and sci-fi shows. The other could watch college football all Saturday long. I don’t mind either sci-fi or football but would much rather spend my Saturdays at Rodina enjoying good food and wine.
If we weren’t related, it’s possible we wouldn’t know each other. We live in different states, have different religious beliefs and our political views aren’t totally aligned.
But these differences were why our trip to Boulder was so much fun. We talked about our relationships, our work, our beliefs and our goals. We didn’t always agree, but we always listened. We valued each other’s experience, opinions and beliefs. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t just all heavy conversations. We also quoted movies to each other, teased each other and complained about the sub-par dining experiences we had in Boulder.
Too often in relationships we place high value on sameness. We surround ourselves with people who think like us, believe like us, and vote like us. We seek out those who will reinforce what we already believe, rather than disagree with us.
This isn’t always bad. It’s nice to have our ideas and opinions valued and supported. But sometimes being surrounded with sameness leads to missing out on the incredible connection that only differences can create.
Having conversations across differences can be hard. Hearing that someone disagrees with your ideas or beliefs can make us angry or upset. Sometimes, that’s warranted. When someone attacks our identity or tries to start an argument in bad faith, it’s not really a conversation.
But if we can learn to listen across differences and share our ideas in ways that invite connection, the richness of difference can enhance our relationships.
As you start to plan your holiday get togethers with family, instead of trying to avoid conversations about differences, you invite them. You probably shouldn’t do it around the dinner table or at times when there is a lot going on. But if you can find time to sit with loved ones who think differently than you do, listen to them, and ask them to listen to your ideas, you may just find that your relationship with that person gets better, not worse.
It won’t always work – especially not on the first try. But if we can reengage those with love who think and believe differently than we do, over time those relationships may be better than you ever thought possible.
At least, that’s what I’ve found with my brothers.
Jacob Priest is a licensed marriage and family therapist and University of Iowa professor. He co-hosts the Attached Podcast. Comments: email@example.com