By Jenna Ebener
Recently as I hiked with my aunt, we were keeping our eyes out for four-leaf clovers. As we eagerly scanned the thousands of clovers we passed, it struck me that if we viewed people in the same way, we would live in a much more compassionate world.
Differences in nature are often sought after and marveled at by others. Four-leaf clovers, albino deer, rainbows and so much more tend to be a source of excited conversation when spotted. Natural oddities rarely seem to be a source of concern or aversion. Yet, when we are faced with differences in humans, we seem to have the opposite reaction.
If we see someone acting outside of what we expect, we tend to back away and dissociate ourselves from that person. Our minds may even seek out a disability as an excuse if we see someone acting outside of the “norm.” Someone is not following social cues? Maybe he has autism. Someone is having trouble finding the words? He might have an intellectual disability. Someone is talking to himself? He must have a mental disorder. Worse, we might jump to even further assumptions, such as people with physical disabilities must also have an intellectual disability or individuals who are nonverbal cannot think or speak for themselves. Our brains want to find ways to make sense of the differences rather than accept that person for who he is.
Yet, we are surrounded by differences. Some, like skin tone or physical ability are more visible than others, but there is so much more that defines us! We often seek out those with similar interests, personalities, beliefs or cultural backgrounds. Some similarity is key for developing relationships — finding common ground with others is one thing that may lead to friendships. Yet, we are limiting ourselves if we take the easy way and only seek out those with apparent similarities to us. If we see someone who looks or speaks differently than us, what is our instinct? Do we see the difference? Or, do we seek the similarity?
Who is that person? Who are all of us? We all are beautiful children of God created in his image. Our physical features or capabilities, intellectual ability, mental state, age, personality and everything else that make up who we are do not matter to God. He loves each and every one of us for who we are. Do we love each person we interact with as a child of God? Do we give those who are different from us, which is indeed everyone we come across, the same grace, mercy and love that God unerringly grants us? By reaching out to each person with love, we begin to unravel all of the prejudices, stereotypes, assumptions and negativity that is all too common in today’s society. So let us embrace our differences and strive to love others as they are.
It is still so important for us to strive to be more like Christ each day, help those who need it, advocate for those who are not treated right, and offer guidance to those who are misdirected. Yet, let it all be done through the lens of love, not out of pride or a sense of obligation. May we live like Christ because doing so allows us to see the light in others.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
(Jenna Ebener, who has a Master of Social Work from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with medical needs.)