How to Enjoy Other People’s Differences (even in your own family)

 

I spent time at my brother’s house this week.

 

We have always been opposites. In fact, everyone who ever knew us growing up would have said so, too. I’m sure the difference in our personalities contributed to our many childhood disagreements. (That’s me pinching him in the picture. While smiling for the camera.)sue

Let me elaborate.

  • He played rough; I played gentle (Well, to a point. I was a certified pincher. Many a wrestling match also ended because I bit him to loose myself from his strong grasp. Not proud of that. Just saying.)
  • He played sports; I played dolls. (He once jammed all my Barbie dolls under their beds, couches, and cabinets of my Barbie house, wadded into uncomfortable balls so I couldn’t find them.)
  • He teased me (once again, the Barbie torture); I took everything seriously. For a joke, he heisted my blue butterfly necklace and hid it in his room; only he couldn’t find it until 3 years later when I was too mature to wear it. I’ve forgiven the poking, tickling, bugs, snakes, whoopie cushions, etc., but I’m apparently still bitter about the necklace. (I did buy it with my own money. On vacation.)
  • He was super messy (hence, the necklace disappearance); I was super neat. (Now we’re both super neat. Crazy how things change.)
  • He went through a green and brown phase (for camouflage purposes); I tried to be stylish (as much as the 70s and 80s and a practical mother would allow). Notice the Native American necklace, also purchased on vacation.
  • He was always late; I was always on time (now the reverse is true).
  • He gave my mother a run for her money; I was a model child (well, other than the biting and pinching thing. And maybe some screeching. And digging in my heels to wear mascara in the 8th grade. It was the 80s, you know–at least I wasn’t wearing blue mascara). Okay, we were both a lot of work for her.

This weekend, my brother asked me how I thought we were different, and surprisingly, I could only recall our similarities. We love our kids and our spouses passionately–we’d rather be with them than anybody else. We value family, loyalty, God, and country. We read voraciously, and we must buy our books. (Borrowing is so much less satisfying.)

We love to travel and learn. We’re both competitive, and we love playing games (fortunately, having kids cured us both of needing to beat each other). We both love being outdoors, although his insatiable appetite for nature supersedes mine. We both want to take care of our mother. We both make her laugh, hold her hand, and take her for walks. We both kiss her even when she doesn’t want to be kissed.

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I think we’ve learned as adults what we failed to learn as kids–that our differing perspectives can work together for a common good. We can’t ignore each other as adults because we both share our mom’s care and everything that goes with it. We enjoy each other’s spouses and kids. We must consider other perspectives, or else everyone loses.

It makes me wonder why so many siblings spend their lives disliking and avoiding each other, just because they’re completely different. (Of course, they are. Everyone who has more than one kid knows that siblings are opposites.)  Many people let varying perspectives cause arguments over inheritance and paternal care and vacations and family functions. Why can’t we look for agreement, even when we disagree?

History. Maybe that’s the problem–so many people have shared histories that hurt, histories they don’t want to remember. I get it. My brother and I share our dad’s death and our mom’s grief. Even there we find similarity and difference. But talking about it gives us another point of connection.

We won’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but our interactions are better when we respect our differences rather than seek uniformity. If there’s one place people should feel grace and respect for their uniqueness, it ought to be within their own families. And what would happen if we gave grace (i.e. overlooking differences and annoyances and choosing to love) at work or at church? What would happen to those difficult relationships?

Here’s my free advice for the day, from someone who’s done it wrong more than she’s done it right:

Find similarities with your family members and cherish them. Give grace. (Grace always costs the giver, but it yields rich rewards for everyone involved.)

If you dwell on your differences, you will go crazy (’cause the other person might not ever change). Joy is a choice, after all. (And family is not.)

Sue Schlesman

Visit Sue @susanwalleyschlesman.com

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Sue Schlesman

Sue Schlesman is a Christian writer, teacher, and speaker. Her blogs, Bible studies, fiction, and non-fiction reach a wide audience. You can find her philosophizing about life, education, family, and Jesus at www.susanwalleyschlesman.com and www.7prayersthatwork.com or email her for speaking opportunities at sueschlesman@gmail.com.

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