By Meradith Christensen
Some of the best relationship advice I’ve ever received was when a friend reposted the following blurb:
“The same energy that creates the side of someone that you love, is frequently also responsible for the side that drives you crazy. You thus shouldn’t pine for an impossible scenario where you can retain that which you adore and excise the part you do not; you can’t pick up one end of the stick, without picking up the other! Once you recognize that someone’s ‘flaws’ are just a different manifestation of the same energy in them that you love, these faults become easier to accept.” - Brett and Kate McKay, How to Accept Your Partner’s Flaws, Art of Manliness blog
Suddenly, everything made so much sense to me. I absolutely love how principled my husband is-- he is such a loyal and honest person. But he views punctuality with the same fervor whether he’s attending a meeting with the Queen of England or a neighborhood barbecue and I myself don’t like to be part of the official greeting crew unless I’m formally invited to the assignment. I like to arrive *right on time*, not long beforehand-- which of course, is “late” in his book.
I totally love and admire how structured and focused he is -- it’s a part of what’s given him such incredible work ethic and has made him a productive human being, but when we were first married and vacationing, I wanted to lay around the pool all day. You can imagine how it really rustled my feathers to find that I’d married a madman who’d scheduled each day to the brim with outings to hike, repel and site see. (You’ll be relieved to know we’ve since figured out how to accomplish both activity and relaxation.)
He loves my natural empathy for others but sometimes in parenting, conflicts have arisen because he thinks I’m too much of a softy and prefers that I be more rigid with consequences. He loves and admires my convictions and my passion for standing up for what I believe in... unless of course, it’s over something he doesn’t feel the same about and thinks is a waste of time to get all worked up over. Then he (wrongfully!) calls my convictions ‘stubbornness’ instead.
We are in so many ways polar opposites. And we are no relationship experts by any means, but I’m realizing after fourteen years of marriage (I know--still baby ferns in this thing!) and five children that there’s a real beauty in walking this road of life with him at my side because his strengths -- the attributes that he possesses that are different from my own -- are helping to mold me into a better and more complete person. I know that my strengths are doing the same for him. And perhaps, more importantly, it is more of an understanding through experience that by putting both of our strengths to work together versus trying to make the other more like ourselves, we have the potential to create a real powerhouse.
Obviously, there are much weightier topics in marriage than punctuality or how to spend our time on family vacations, but my point is this: This principle applies to all relationships with our fellow human beings.
What if we could somehow extend this idea beyond our romantic relationships and close friendships? What if we could somehow extend this to all others? Are we slapping the label of “flaw” onto attributes we simply have a hard time relating to? Things that make another different from us? An approach to solving a problem that’s nowhere near the approach we would take? A way of thinking that feels foreign and unfamiliar and oftentimes threatening?
What if we could rewire our minds to look at differences, or what we might too easily label to be “flaws” in others, as exciting and fascinating? Instead of feeling threatened by differences -- which almost always reflects our own insecurities -- what if we could view them as an opportunity to learn and grow from another? What if we could recognize and more importantly fully embrace the idea that combining and celebrating our different strengths with others’ has potential to create a real “powerhouse” society? Do we allow ourselves to see the strength in diversity as a whole and individually and understand how it makes us better than we ever could have been on our own? How it helps us to become more complete and well-rounded humans?
In our modern world, we as humankind have never had such effortless access to so many differing viewpoints in history. Do we see this as a curse or an opportunity? Ask yourself:
When was the time I talked to or engaged online with someone I disagreed with on a given topic? What was my objective in that conversation? Was my intention to prove that I’m “right” or to assert my opinion? Was it to try to persuade them to see things my way?
Try the following little experiment: The next time you disagree with someone just pause. Don’t assert your opinion at all but simply ask questions in an effort to better understand the perspective. Why does this person see things the way they do? What are they hoping to see accomplished as a result of their beliefs? What principles are at the root of this person’s beliefs? What can you find that is admirable in these principles?
If you are willing, share your experience with this experiment. Were you able to appreciate a different perspective? How did you feel after the conversation?
Do we honestly feel it a coincidence that by divine design, no two snowflakes are the same? That each star of billions of stars in the sky is unique? How can we grow in appreciation for others' differences? As the American author Audre Lorde said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” It’s time to consciously rise above that which separates us and embrace and celebrate the power of our differences.
Meradith Christensen is a Provo resident for the past 15 years and is a wife and mother to four daughters and one son, ages 3-12. She graduated with a BA degree in Spanish and is a soon-to-be certified yoga instructor. Meradith loves to travel the world, loves meeting new people, and has a special flair for Latin America. She loves to sing, write, cook, tell stories, dance, impromptu Riverdance, and thinks her jokes are the funniest of all jokes.