We live in a global world, which has become one big village. Movement across the globe has become easy and people are no longer confined to their countries of birth. It is very possible to find a whole class of people from different countries studying at the same institution or working in one office.
Our diverse cultural backgrounds and personalities, should, ideally enrich our experience. However, our perception and conduct can sometimes come across as either pleasant or offensive and can make or break relationships.
It is important that we never assume that the next person understands who we are and where we are coming from. When relating with people from a different set up, it is best to tread carefully and be sensitive, at least until one has developed a level of familiarity that reduces the chances of being offensive.
Here are three principles that can contribute modestly towards helping us to build good relations and enjoy our diversity as we chart our way in the global village.
- Never tease people about what’s beyond their control
This is all encompassing and can range from race, tribe, culture, height and nationality to looks. People generally invest in themselves and tend to change what they don’t like. Chances are, if they haven’t changed something about themselves, it’s probably beyond their control.
For example, if a person is short sighted and wears thick glasses and you constantly tease them about that, then it reflects both insensitivity and immaturity on your part. Nobody suddenly wakes up and decides: “Hhhhmmm, I think I want to start wearing spectacles that are half an inch thick from today onwards because I think it’s trendy!” Perhaps that person cannot afford laser treatment or contact lenses and is simply grateful to be able to see through those glasses regardless of the thickness of the lenses.
We all have traits that we are uncomfortable about but have learnt to live with. Everyone probably has something that they were teased about as a child. However, in adulthood, we expect to be over the childhood banter. The average person has embraced their imperfections so pointing them out does not help anyone. It only magnifies the problem and increases the person’s discomfort. In fact, it could actually drive a wedge between you and that individual.
Imagine how many people miss out on a potentially good friendship because they choose to focus on and undermine someone about something beyond that person’s control.
So, next time you feel like pointing out something about someone, like the size of their feet, the freckles on their face, the thickness of their lenses, the texture of their hair, the pitch of their voice, their complexion, the shape of their head, the size of their hips or whatever else you find strange about the person, first ask yourself this: “Is it absolutely worth mentioning?” and: “Of what benefit is it to point it out?” If there is no real benefit in pointing out those traits to someone, then perhaps it’s best to just let it go. Focus on issues that matter and let go of what doesn’t. After all, you are not perfect either!
Of course it’s a different ballgame if the individual concerned points out that trait first and jokes about it. In that case, then the doors are open to teasing. However, my advice is simple, don’t be the first to tease the person about it. Let them give the license by raising it first.
- Don’t undervalue what’s important to others
We are all different and like to do different things. Some people like to exercise by walking, while others prefer the gym. Some people like to wear makeup while others prefer their natural look. Some people like to read for leisure while others would rather watch a movie. Some people like to be surrounded by a group of friends, while others enjoy solitude. The list is endless.
Sometime in the past, I was introduced people and we started getting to know each other. At some point, I asked to be excused as I had a commitment. On being asked further, I mentioned to the people I was with that I had to write something for my blog.
The immediate response was a dismissive: “That’s not important, let’s sit and talk.” Indeed, blogging was not important to them, but it is important to me and the subject they were discussing was of no interest to me. After a series of similar incidents, I had to extricate myself from that crowd. There is no way I could develop in my areas of interest when surrounded by people who did not value what’s important to me. While it is possible to befriend people with different interests, this particular crowd was reluctant to accommodate anything outside their preferences.
My simple advice is, don’t impose your preferences on other people. Learn to respect what other people value, even if it is not your preference.
- Respect individuality
Finally and most importantly, I believe respecting people’s individuality is the starting point in any relationship whether it is at home, at school or in the workplace. Wherever we are, acknowledging that we are all individuals and were created differently will go a long way in helping us to relate with other people. Once we acknowledge and respect individuality, we enjoy our diversity. We learn to embrace our differences, appreciate other people’s positive qualities and accommodate their negative traits, particularly if they are harmless.
Respecting individuality helps us to live and let live.
Ultimately, it gives us an opportunity to benefit from the wealth of our diversity.
These three principles are not exhaustive, but at least contribute towards better relations. I hope you will find them beneficial as you navigate through the global village.