“Accepting differences” may not seem like a typical “self care” topic. But I struggle with “accepting differences” and I am certain I am not the only one.
In the past few weeks, I have been considering what the key elements are for me in “accepting differences” and they seem to be experience, education and expectations. Below is a description of my current journey as I examine how to address this aspect of my self-care.
When I hold a particular opinion, value or belief that differs from someone else, I often feel a strong emotional reaction when I see or hear their perspectives. Of course, I feel like they are wrong, even if I do not say anything. But that tension or anxiety I feel in my body is an indication from my inner guidance system that I am not in a mode of “accepting differences”… at least that is my belief. It is telling me to allow them to have their perspectives without me needing to get emotionally wrapped up in their opinions. Part of the struggle is determining when “self care” also includes speaking up or taking action, because just “accepting differences” does not feel like the right thing for me to do.
Water analogies speak to my soul and I heard this one somewhere along my path. I know I am paying attention to my inner guidance system when any thought or action feels like I am floating downstream. When I am not struggling against the current, I have my feet up and am relaxed letting life unfold effortlessly. When I feel like I am swimming upstream, against the current, I am working hard and wearing myself out. Then I am usually not listening to my inner guidance system and instead trying to control an outcome or situation.
If I decide to take an action or speak up, even if this varies from someone else’s opinion or perspective, it needs to feel right…as if I am floating downstream.
As I write this blog, it is January 2017. Donald Trump has been sworn into office as the nation’s 45th President. The divisions within the country seem to be wide chasms of fear of the unknown for our future.
I have very different values and opinions from most of my family members in the middle of the country. During the brief time we spend together, we choose not to get into big debates over politics or religion, but prefer to focus on our love for each other. However, I still struggle with accepting their differences…and they probably struggle accepting mine, as well.
Recently I read Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman”, the sequel to her award winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. I found this book riveting though it was a sad reminder to me of the struggles and inequities that continue to plague African American people, in particular, but many races and nationalities, as well. As I see it, that is the biggest difference between most of my Midwest family members and me. I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area now for over half of my life and that experience has profoundly impacted my perspective. I have seen racism and personally experienced sexism. I KNOW it exists AND I know that as a white woman, I do not experience the “isms” very much. Which is also why I was in total shock when Donald Trump was elected President. The “isms” have not changed that much in this country since Harper Lee’s second novel, which was set in the late 1950’s. Clearly this is not nearly as surprising to the African American community.
What if I had stayed in the Midwest and/or had not worked in social services? How would my view of the United States and world politics be different than it is today? Would I hold more similar perspectives as my other family members do? Just how much has the experience of living in the Bay Area for over half of my life influenced me?
As I write this blog, I am flying back from my first trip to Africa. I had an amazing two weeks in Tanzania exploring the Serengeti on a safari followed by a visit to the spice island of Zanzibar. The most impactful days for me were when we visited a traditional Maasai village in Nayoibi, which is in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Our guide was born and raised in that village. He had the benefit of a sponsor which allowed him to get a secondary and university education. He now lives in the States, but communicates weekly with his family. He visits each year to assist his family, as well as focusing on helping young girls to access an education. The conditions his family lives in are definitely very primitive, by standards in the United States. Since his family lives in a Conservation Area, they are not even allowed to grow vegetable gardens. So this makes it very difficult to feed the families.
Our guide is passionate about sponsoring more girls to get a secondary education so they have options to broaden their perspectives and gain new experiences. I struggled with whether or not to personally support them because who am I? What right do I have to impose my opinions and beliefs on anyone else, let alone a culture that has survived for centuries? But after further conversations, I learned that if given the choice and opportunity, many of the parents of this village desired their children, even their girls, to get an education…as long as they stayed in touch and supported their families, like our guide does. They see in him the benefits and advantages of getting an education.
This was a powerful example for me of how education can be beneficial to “accepting differences”. It was a huge benefit to our guide and now he is sharing that opportunity with others from his culture. If a mother can see how education may benefit her daughter, then I am open to supporting that desire. Not in a judgmental way, but in a supportive way.
So far, in this blog, I have talked about experience and education as being important elements in my journey of learning to “accept differences” as it relates to my own self-care. The third element that frequently comes up for me is expectation. That is in the context of what I “expect” of or from others.
I do not get upset if I do not have any expectations of another person. But when I do have expectations, then I often feel stress or anxiety if they are not meeting them. Then I have to consciously examine what that is about, what purpose it may be serving, and whether there is anything I can do about it? By noticing that I am swimming upstream and fighting the current energetically, plus mindfully considering these questions, it helps me determine if there is an action I am to take or if it is time to let it go. Letting go is often more difficult than taking action. I have to seriously consider how the stress or anxiety is affecting my health and wellbeing, as this directly correlates to my “self-care”.
Of course, the hardest aspects of expectations to deal with for me, is when I realize someone else has an expectation that I have not agreed to and may not be living up to. At such times, the only thing I have found I can do, in order to release that stress, is to learn to allow that person to be disappointed or upset. To acknowledge it is OK to let them have that experience, as that is their choice. Others might call this acknowledging what is “their stuff”, not mine. But it is still hard to let go of, especially for those of us who could be referred to as “people pleasers”.
Experience, education & expectations seem to be the 3-legged stool that have helped to support me in these past few weeks as I have been continuing this journey to “accept differences”. Of course, like the yoga or meditation that Balanced Rock incorporates into our programs, this is a daily practice. I am alert to it when I feel the tension or anxiety in my body, when I am struggling to move up stream, energetically.
When I take the time to examine what is going on in my spirit, mind and/or body, then I can consider the appropriate steps to address it, with the goal of shifting the energy to be more of consciously floating down stream. Only in this regular practice have I been learning to “accept differences” in order to be mindful of the impact on my own self-care.
Balanced Rock Participant & Board Member