SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, life coaches Kim Giles and Nicole Cunningham share why people who are different make us uncomfortable and how to change that.
I loved your article last week about not being self-righteous but it brought up another question for me. I have found it hard to socialize with both my church friends and my non-member friends at the same time. It’s a problem for one reason — some are so uncomfortable around people who are drinking alcohol they cannot even handle it. They see people who drink as having poor values. Is there any advice you would give people who are uncomfortable around people who are different from them, which might help them be more friendly and cool with everyone?
Science has actually proven that we are all subconsciously attracted to people who are similar to us. We prefer people who look like us, have similar personalities, and similar education levels. We are naturally more comfortable with all similarities and uncomfortable with differences. Stacy Lynn Harp, a marriage and family therapist told Medical Daily, “Likeness attracts likeness. It’s actually a myth that opposites attract.”
Through Implicit Association testing, led by researchers at Harvard, scientists have also shown that most of us also have subconscious biases for our own groups. We prefer people of the same race, who have the same values, economic status, and education level we have. So, it’s no surprise that it’s a bumpy road when you try to bring very different kinds of people together. They won't naturally gel.
But we all need to broaden our horizons and get to know people who are different from us, so we have less fear and discomfort around them. Yes, that uncomfortable feeling you feel is fear.
Differences create fear of failure and loss. This happens because we are subconsciously programmed to see everything in terms of better or worse. We compare everything and everyone, and any differences create the question of which is better and which is less. This means all differences are a threat to our own worth and safety at some level. If they are better and we are worse, we experience fear of failure. So, we need to see them as less to feel safe. We can also be afraid their differences might influence or affect our families negatively.
The way we eliminate these fears is to simply remind ourselves there is no better or worse when it comes to people — there is only different. We all have the same intrinsic, infinite, worth all the time. When you make this your truth it makes differences less threatening.
We also believe people need to be exposed to more different kinds of people to make the fear go away.
It’s your responsibility to watch for subconscious (or conscious) bias against people who are different from you. It is your responsibility to change your own subconscious biases against these people, too. It’s your responsibility, because choosing not to address your biases, is the same as accepting racism as OK, because it’s all you have known. Ignorance isn’t innocence.
Most of us have biases simply from a lack of exposure to people in different groups. If you have never known a gay person, a black person or had friends that drink alcohol or coffee, or believe a different religion, you are biased from a simple lack of exposure.
It is your job to gain exposure and broaden your understanding of humanity and the brothers and sisters you share this planet with. It’s your job to look for chances to get to know people who are different from you. It is your job to learn to respect their choices and honor their right to be who and where they are — and still deserve respect, kindness and friendliness.
You can, of course, prefer your own values, choices and lifestyles over other people's choices. You have the right to choose what is right for you. But when you start seeing yourself as better and them as bad, you are on a slippery slope of being self-righteous and arrogant.
You may prefer not to have alcohol in your home (for religious reasons or because you are sober) and you may prefer friends that don't drink, but refusing to socialize or get to know people because they drink is also wrong. It’s judgmental and it’s drawing lines of exclusion and that is a problem. You have to decide how to create a healthy balance between honoring others and honoring what is right for you and your family, too. You might be more comfortable to meet at a restaurant rather than have people in your home, but don't miss the chance to get to know them.
Help your children to understand that drinking alcohol or coffee doesn’t make a person bad, while still warning them about the health risks that come with it. Teach your family your values, but be careful to raise children who are kind and friendly to everyone, no matter their differences.
Research is now showing that exposure to underrepresented groups, or any people who are different from you, can really help. Dr. Buju Dasgupta found in his study that people exposed to admired members of disadvantaged groups shifted their bias against these people. Exposure made all the difference.
There are lots of opportunities all around you to broaden your circle and meet people who are different, but it can require getting out of your house and neighborhood. When you are out at museums, parks or activities, look for people you wouldn’t normally talk to and go sit by them. Ask about them and make a new friend. People are everywhere and they are usually open to getting to know someone new.
We also encourage people who aren't religious to stretch out of your comfort zone and get to know, honor and respect people who are different from you. This is a two way street.
We would recommend you keep inviting those two friend groups to activities together and ask them both to use this as an opportunity to stretch the limits of their love. We often don’t realize we have limits, because they are subconscious, but you will feel the fear and know it when you hit one. It's easy to love people who are just like you, while differences give us the chance to grow and become more loving and open.
You can do this.