Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Imagine a World without Contrast

The slogan of the National Down Syndrome congress is "We are more alike than different."  In choosing this campaign, the organization wishes to remind us that we are all part of the race called human.  They urge us to find the common thread that connects us all.

We need to be reminded from time to time of the great truth in that statement. America has often been referred to as the melting pot, a place which welcomes and thrives on diversity.  But, we dare not forget that it is also a place with the ugly scars of racism, segregation, and abuse.

As we strive to break down stereotypes and open the gates to understanding, several thoughts keep coming back to me.

Recognition of similarities is not equal to condescension or pity for an inferior people.  We must remember that the darkness of our assumed superior race didn't just exist during the times of atrocities against the early Indians or the African slaves.

The same darkness exists today inside each one of us and must be recognized before we can be truly compassionate.
Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.  It's a relationship between equals.  Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.  Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.
                          --from The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron 

Elizabeth Elliot has said "I used to say, 'We are all equal in the sight of God; here let me help you up to where I am!'  But now I know, 'We are all equal in the sight of God; God have mercy on us all!"

But I feel a bit uneasy at telling people to "look at how alike we are", when, in reality, many of the things I most admire about Wade are the ways in which he is different from me.

And for this reason, as we aim to see beyond stereotypes to the recognition of a shared humanity, I believe our slogan needs to go farther than just acknowledging that "we are more alike than different".  

We must also learn to appreciate the things that make us different.

Compare these two pictures.  

The first picture is too light; the second is too dark; each has too much sameness to display anything very pleasing to the eye.

 But with a balance of dark and light, the beauty of the true picture emerges.

In other words,
contrast enables us to see.

The things that make you different from me are the very things that I must learn to respect and appreciate. And vice versa.  It is the same principle Steven Covey wrote about in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:  

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

As I seek to understand our differences, I develop better vision for the world as God intended it to be. True humility recognizes that each personality adds a bit of color to a gray world, regardless of your chromosomes.  

Fifty years ago, Madeleine L'Engle wrote about a terrifying planet in A Wrinkle in Time.  At first glimpse, the underlying terror was not apparent.  But as the story moves forward, the reader is gripped with the horror of living in a place of unaltered sameness controlled by the frightening monotony of a mechanical mind.  

It is true that some repetition (sameness) gives us a sense of security whereas confusion tends to disorient us.  But either extreme is terrifying.  Life needs a mixture of likenesses and differences in order to help us better see the whole picture.

A full appreciation of this variety, however, does not come about by demanding that you see our likenesses.  Nor does it flourish if you only see our differences.  

Someone else said it best hundreds of years ago.

Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

And it is only through application of this guideline--God's standard of love for all people--that we can truly have both diversity and unity.

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