This week I went home to visit family. It is a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains and filled with lots of people who look like me and many who even have the same religious beliefs. In my 12 years of school there, I can probably count on one hand the number of people I knew that were “different” from me.
While there, I got into a conversation with someone that led to them saying they were “color blind”. In a way, the statement didn’t surprise me. I didn’t know this person really, but in my years spent in the valley, people were always polite, gracious and respectful to all. AND — looking back, I’d say pretending to be blind to any differences. We weren’t to point out differences. We didn’t discuss them. We were to act as if we were all equals and the same.
Well, I am all for the equal piece. We are all humans with the same basic needs. We all should have the same rights and opportunities…regardless of the color of our skin, language we speak, clothes we wear, or size of our bank accounts. But, we are not all the same, nor do I believe we should pretend we are. I am not saying we need to treat individuals differently because they aren’t like us – but acknowledge, understand and respect the differences.
In ignoring differences (of any sorts), I feel we are expecting everyone to conform to the same beliefs or ways, risking sending a message that different equates to a bad thing or that discussing differences guarantees confrontation. In the case of the community I grew up in, I don’t believe it was intentional (and sure that is the same for others too). But what do we gain from this?
Today, I am raising my children in an environment unlike the one I grew up in. First, teaching them that different is not bad, and sometimes it can be quite awesome (while fully understanding that being “like” someone else is comforting at times). We don’t need to highlight differences all the time, but we also should never be ashamed of them.
Second, I don’t ever want my children to be “color blind” (or blind to anything). I want them to see people for who they are. See life and perspectives like, and unlike, their own; be it foods, beliefs, ways of life, struggles one faces, or things that make one happy. Get to know others and understand why they say and/or do what they do. Respect other’s choices and make a decision to associate with them because of who they are as individuals.
My why? I hope it opens their eyes and allows for them to better connect with the world outside of their bubble, making them much more empathetic human beings. Just a few weeks ago, my littlest guy told his brother who had just complained about a bathroom that, “at least there was a toilet,” because his friend came from a country where the toilet was just a hole in the ground. I don’t want my kids to settle for a less sanitary bathroom because they know that – but I think it helps put things in perspective.
So, I hope fewer people are color blind (or blind to any differences). I hope that we see the colors. Recognize that each individual has different needs. Celebrate and encourage people to share their unique perspectives, talents and strengths for others to learn from them. Just as the collection of many dots of unique color create beautiful mountain scene in the above painting; it is the collection of many unique individuals that make our communities and organizations resource and knowledge rich.
Above painting by Henri Martin