I may have muttered this to myself at different times in my life about a number of individuals. It’s understandable if you have, too. In life, we meet and relate with different kinds of people. But it’s not always the other person. You and I are sometimes the problem in our everyday relationships. I am a peace lover, but on a number of occasions I have fallen out with a couple of people, my loved ones inclusive. Likely still will.
I remember an instance with a colleague at my workplace. I pride myself in my ability to disagree with people, peacefully. But this guy was egregious. He saw nobody. It was as though the job was forced on him. Somehow, I found myself in a contention with him and as much as I tried to remain my calm self, he was not having any of that sweetness. He was hell-bent on making me reveal that part of me that I rarely put out there. I remember abruptly ending that conversation to end things from blowing up.
We may not always escape situations like this, but events like this point to the fact that we are all different and disagreements are bound to happen. However, the manner in which we disagree with people is another thing entirely. Looking back now, I feel like this guy would have thought to himself: “I am an assertive, no-nonsense person,” whereas I heard: “I am arrogant and intractable.” And I may have thought to myself: “Why so angry? I am only disagreeing with you peaceably,” and I wonder what he heard.
As humans we were not designed to agree with one another all the time; we are all wired differently and we have varying personalities. Our personalities are shaped by our backgrounds, individual experiences, beliefs, preferences, and aspirations, and no two persons have exactly the same of these. Disagreements are unavoidable in relationships, but they can be healthy when managed properly. If channeled in the right direction, disagreements can create opportunities for us to understand people better and even learn from them. For clarity, disagreements should not be confused with yelling, screaming or name-calling.
This potpourri of different personalities around us is part of what makes life diverse and interesting. There’s the reserved, erudite friend, then there’s the affable extrovert – that one who is the life of the party. There’s the placid unperturbed colleague at work and there’s the feisty tumultuous hot blood. We have met them, we have been them. Generally, we tend to associate with people who have similar ideals as we do, but sometimes we opt to roll with those who are different from us because somehow we are able to achieve some mutual understanding with them (hence the maxim opposites attract). There is really no one size fits all with personalities, and each personality has their different ‘shine’ moments and foibles. In all, it is important to know how to relate appropriately and peaceably with people, regardless of their personality and ours.
How we can navigate human differences
Understand that everyone is different
Bad attitudes and behaviors are inexcusable, but because we are partly shaped by our past experiences in life, we have to recognize the fact that some people’s attitudes are reactions from unpleasant life experiences. Having this understanding is fundamental to saving ourselves a lot of headache when dealing with people, as it can help us take offence less often. Sometimes, other people (and us) are just in a bad mood. When I sense a curmudgeon, I try to silently remind myself that this person may just be bothered or disturbed by something. And to everyone who has had a sour past (wait, that would be almost all of us), do not allow this deter you from enjoying life and having a good relationship with people, because nobody likes surly, and honestly, everyone else is going through their own storm too.
You cannot be friends with everyone
There have been a few people with whom I used to be close but as time passed, it was clear that our relationship did not hold water. Such relationships did not work out, and this is okay, because relationships ought to be meaningful. There’s a saying that your life mirrors that of the five closest people to you. This may seem like reaching, but there’s some truth in it. You are allowed to choose your friends and you are also allowed to maintain a safe distance with people for reasons best known to you. We should avoid holding grudges like a plague though; grudges are noxious and can cloak our hearts with darkness.
Listen to other people’s views; you will not always be right
It takes me about an average of three minutes to decide if I want to go ahead with a conversation or if I want to shut down. I admit that I can be a little opinionated. For instance, there are some ideas in this age that I do not follow or agree with. I think I was supposed to be born in an older generation, but somehow, I got here when I did. Gotta ask my mama. However, I am learning to truly listen to other people, understand what they really mean when they unveil their thoughts. It’s left for me to test what I hear and choose to either believe it or not. On some occasions, I have had enlightening conversations with people and when they share their point of view, I get: “Oh, I never saw it that way; you do have a good point there.” And I totally begin to see things in a different light. No, you do not have to lower your personal standards to conform to another person’s, but if you do not agree to a person’s views, disagree peaceably or take your leave if necessary (I’d rather not get into some conversations, really). Voice your opinion as appropriate but do not impose it; it really is not by force.
We all outgrow some things with time
Age, maturity, understanding, and insightful experiences happen to us along our paths in life. This is growth and it is inevitable. As we learn each day and become wiser (hopefully), there are things we would wish we did better in our past. This applies to everyone, and some people just need time to grow. However, the onus is not on us to change them or to make them grow. Help them? We can. We need to learn to give people time and space (yes, that too where needed). And if you are the person from whom someone requires space, this may hurt, but accept it. Channel your energy into making yourself a better person. Regardless, befriend yourself in the meantime.
Respect other people and be at peace with them
Despite the differences in the behaviors, personal values and beliefs of the people we relate with, we need to be able to respect them, provided these differences are not putting anyone in harm’s way. We do not need to force a closely knit relationship where none exists, but we do need to respect our fellow human beings and learn how to relate with them, seeing as most of us do not intend to become hermits. We are, in fact, required to live peaceably with people, whether by law or by faith.
So, today and going forward, I hope that we all can be more accepting of other people’s differences as we go about our activities. And don’t forget: you are allowed to choose your friends.
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