One of the skills many are taught and develop while in grade school is the practice of contrasting and comparing. Many of us remember prompts like “Compare and contrast Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to Homer’s The Odyssey,”
What we were not taught is that this skill, intended as a tool of critical thinking, may become a crutch or a disability without the added insight of reflection. “I don’t like: Thai food, large cities, small towns, the desert, rap music, classical music, liberals, conservatives, Christmas” more accurately reveals a person’s experience, or lack of, to any particular event, place or thing.
I may not like Christmas because my family is religious while I’m not; or I hate shopping for things people in my life don’t need with money I don’t have; or half of my family are drinkers and I’m uncomfortable with that; or my father died on Christmas and it is a time of grieving, not of celebrating. What happens is that I am comparing this Christmas with all of the others from my previous experience. I am convinced it’s not to be enjoyed. Once I am convinced, then I have prevented the opportunity to grow. I could be more creative about extending love in other forms besides buying gifts from the mall or attending large family dinners. With reflection and courage, there is an opportunity to consider more satisfying ways to address our collective expectations and needs. Perhaps that comes in the form of having a Christmas breakfast instead of a dinner or choosing to spend the day on my own.
I lived in Santa Cruz for many years. I love the salty moist air, the rich earth of the redwood forest, the red bougainvillea that grows on the side of the government buildings. I now live in Reno and many of my Santa Cruz friends don’t understand my affection for the high desert. It’s dry. It’s hot. No trees. I realized they don’t see Reno for what it is, they see it for what its not. As long as the desert is compared to the ocean and then dismissed because it does not possess those familiar qualities then one is incapable of appreciating the sparse yet resonate beauty of the desert landscape.
Rap music. Hate it. Assumed it was an inferior art form because it requires a very different ear when listening than what I am familiar and therefore comfortable with. Compared to almost all other forms of music which posses melody and foundations of music theory. This assumption allowed me to dismiss an entire genre of music and in some ways a generation of concertgoers. That’s okay. I’m right. You’re wrong. But then my daughter insisted I listen to Nicki Minaj and her outrageous/courageous voice of a woman’s experience. Surprised, I discovered an appreciation for the art form. I will probably never spend a hundred bucks on tickets to a concert, but my willingness to embrace my daughter’s appreciation drew us closer and more engaged as I understand her life a little better.
Our differences can be unsettling. And the easiest way to deal with this discomfort is to disregard and dismiss the value of the “other”. However, as long as you dismiss your wife’s pleasure in theater or your husband’s delight in finding the correct fly fishing lure or a parent’s love in participating in the community chorus, you miss knowing something important about them. You miss the opportunity to love a part of themselves that they love.
I get it, the fishing lure is not that interesting to someone who doesn’t fish and rap music is certainly not interesting to someone who adores Leonard Cohen or Dinah Washington, but if we take the time to listen to one another’s story and let them teach us, we just may learn we have more to join through comparison than dismiss in contrast. And this simple yet significant act may provide the magic elixir of connection.