Although most of us live inside one kind of bubble or another, inevitably we find ourselves connected with people who are different from ourselves. Whether the people relate to are family, social acquaintances, coworkers, or people we encounter in incidental ways, we are likely to meet people who have differing levels of education, income, societal privilege, values and worldviews. How do we get along with people who differ from us along one or more of these dimensions?
In the 1940s, 50s and 60s American culture and American families tended to be more homogenous. In the past few decades, our families, our culture and our world have become more heterogenous. Those who were different in those communities either remained hidden or were pushed out by biased treatment or overt messages of being unwelcome. In the past few decades, our families, our culture and our world have become more heterogenous.
Within American society many people who are different with respect to race, sexual orientation, social class, ethnicity, and religion have found their voices and begun to claim a place within the larger American society. Individual family members have left their original bubbles and learned that there is a wider world of people and cultures unlike theirs. Our global interconnectedness has also profoundly altered our exposure to diverse peoples and ways of life. Now we are confronted with a great new challenge—how to live and communicate respectfully across sometimes large differences in lifestyle, political beliefs and values. How do we build relationships across difference?
- To what extent do you perceive yourself: as one of the majority or mainstream or as one of the “different”?
- In what way do you feel your values and lifestyle reflect and fit in with traditional American culture and in what ways have you or your family become “deviant” or different?
- What do you feel are the challenges that make it difficult for you to relate to people who are different from you? Which types of differences are most difficult for you to accept?
- Share any experiences you have had in which you have learned how to successfully relate to others who are different from you? Are there shifts in perspective, attitudes or worldview that have allowed you to successfully relate across difference?
- What situations in your family have challenged you the most? For example, having a member of your family come out as gay or bisexual or marry someone of another race.
- If you were giving advice to your parents about accepting and building relationships with people who are different, what would you say? If the younger generation were giving you advice, what do you think they would say to you?