Monday, October 24, 2011

Living with Differences

We were standing around talking casually and laughing during a break in a class at our community center the other day when my next door neighbor Larry announced with a smile to the others that "Kathy and I are at opposite poles politically but I think we share a lot in our essence and that's what matters."

I stopped short -- and realized he was right.

Since moving from California to Arizona, I find myself surrounded by next door neighbors who differ dramatically from me in political and religious beliefs -- and yet that doesn't prevent warm friendships.

I admire Larry's openness to new ideas and his courage in running for and serving in political office in an area where he is a relative newcomer.  I admire his wife Louise's artistic talents and ease with a great variety of people. Our differences aren't an issue in our enduring friendship.

There are instances, in fact, when differences prompt admiration and respect. I'm very impressed, for example, by both the religious and political commitments of my other next door neighbors Carl and Judith. They are conservative Christians and Republicans who don't just vote but who actively campaign for their candidates. One of their sons is a minister. Their beliefs have shaped their lives -- and those of others -- in a positive way. When they were younger, in addition to raising their own two sons, they nurtured a number of foster children who so needed the love and stability they offered. They live their faith.  Even though I don't share their specific political or religious commitments, I admire their integrity and fervor.

And my immediate neighbors -- Carl and Judith on one side, Larry and Louise on the other -- are very gentle with our differences and respectful of my point of view. Although I know it takes considerable effort at times, they rarely dis Obama in my presence and I, in turn, make an effort to stifle my loathing for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, among others. These days, who knows who is right? Who knows who would be best equipped to lead this nation out of its current socioeconomic morass?

Even my husband Bob and I disagree over such things at times. He is much more moderate politically and has crossed party lines to vote a number of times. His views on religion differ somewhat from mine. But so what? Our differences don't diminish our love and respect for each other.

How much do such differences of opinion really matter?

When I look around at my neighbors, I see good, honest people who are caring and kind.

 I see couples who have been married for decades, raised children together and are nurturing each other through retirement.

Even among those more likely to share my political leanings, there are some real differences in lifestyle and, for that matter, life stages.

 I see Hank and Mary, Carl and Judith's other next door neighbors, still balancing demanding professional careers, watching their youngest child adjust to college life and settling in as empty nesters for the first time in their marriage.

 I see Pat and Joe, high school sweethearts, who have known heartbreak, illness, adventure and joy in their many years together. They have loved each other dearly through all the seasons of their lives together.

 I see Phyllis and Wally, the  seventy-something newlyweds on the block, who met at a time of life when their religious differences -- she is Jewish, he was raised Catholic -- didn't matter anymore and they married 11 years ago. They focus on what they share -- a love of travel, of family, of good friends and conversations worth beginning, and they support each other through the stresses of serious health challenges, facing each day with courage, love and laughter.

It's an interesting place, this new neighborhood. We hail from a variety of far-flung hometowns. We have diverse opinions, life histories and personal interests. But, in our hearts, we're family.

And, as Larry said, that is what matters.


  1. What terrific viewpoints. Life would be so very humdrum and boring if we all thought exactly alike. Our differences should only make us appreciate each other all the more. Your neighborhood sounds like a terrific place to be!

  2. I can whole-heartedly agree with you.

    We too live in a place where few people share our opinions but that doesn't mean we cannot be on friendly terms.

    The woman I liked and respected the most read a paper I wouldn't wrap my fish in but the was the kindest, friendliest, most welcoming person I've ever met.

    Look below the surface, we are all much the same.

  3. It's all about respect isn't it? I do find myself having a hard time dealing with all the negative and the bashing of political leaders.

  4. I just got a Twitter follower who claimed to be a conservative, and rants about how all liberals do is spew hate. I checked out his website. He claims to be a super patriot. His tweets are hate filled rants about loving the country or leaving it for North Korea. And, what he'd like to do to liberals. Do people just use their philosophies to vent and make excuses for their anger? I don't think people really understand themselves or how other people view them. What is in the water that Americans have become so angry? News pundits have pitted factions against each other for ratings. They are so focused on them that they don't see what they are doing. We need a worldwide potluck or love fest to hold hands and sing. Even with their frustrations, I think the OWS gets it.

  5. I wish more people shared our view that individual differences can be accepted and don't need to change the way we feel about the real person underneath. There is something to love in everyone.