Life Lessons from People Who are Different

It’s easy to understand people who are similar to us because interactions with them don’t require much energy or thought. If someone looks like you and behaves according to your rules, you’ll probably find them far more likable, or at least much easier to deal with.

But this mentality has developed perceptions and beliefs that have made us more judgmental of others. “Is that person like me?” If not, they must be poor, sick, sinful, etc. In short, we favor the people who are like us and ignore the people who are different.

I don’t believe this way of thinking is healthy for humanity. It’s time we start listening to each other. Our differences are the best teachers we have to help us develop as human beings and become the best versions of ourselves.

The Life Lessons of Being Different

Imagine a world without differences, a “perfect” world in which everyone falls into a single “right” category. Could we ever develop and grow in such a world? Would we learn the important life lessons that advance humanity as a whole? I don’t think so. Some people believe we should all live by one plan, under which we’d all have to think and act the same and believe in a singular absolute truth. But over time, obeying the rules, looking and thinking alike, and behaving according to a set code would not yield any reward. Maybe then we would finally understand the beauty of our differences.So for every person who is different and for every act or opinion we don’t understand, we should ask ourselves, “What can I learn from this?”Here are some examples of groups of people who are different and the life lessons they can teach us about embracing our differences.

Life Lesson #1: People with Disabilities and Special Needs

The diversity within the disabled community is huge. Some cases are easy, some are very difficult. Some people look ordinary on the surface, some are really quiet, and some are very loud. But in my experience, the one lesson this special group of citizens can universally teach us is the ability to love unconditionally. It’s as if the judgment we exercise when meeting new people doesn’t exist within this community. Their ability to respect anyone who accepts their company is amazing, as anyone who knows such a person will tell you. We have a long way to go before we reach their level of acceptance and inclusion!So the next time you meet a person with a disability or special needs, don’t pity them. Instead, value their wonderful gift and make an effort to learn from their example!

Life Lesson #2: LGBTQ Community

The sad truth is that we live in a world in which being anything other than heterosexual is still seen as abnormal and even dangerous. Some people insist that they speak in the name of God when they say being gay is unnatural and wrong. But regardless of what anyone thinks of them, the LGBTQ community can teach us a lot about the extraordinary courage to be who you really are.LGBTQ people deal with the daily reality of being a minority. They receive threats and endure teasing just for having been born different. They know they will face challenges among family and society, and yet they have the courage to stand up and proudly say, “This is who I am!”So even if you can’t accept their “alternative lifestyle”, at least try to embrace the life lessons this community teaches us about being brave and daring to be yourself!

Life Lesson #3: People with Different Opinions

Is there anything harder than listening to someone express opinions that clash with your own? Our instinct is to immediately judge these people and give them negative labels: righty, lefty, traitor, naive, enemy, etc.It’s easier to be dismissive of people with different opinions than it is to make an effort to listen to them and understand where they’re coming from. But the even bigger lesson we tend to miss is the beauty and power of our freedom of speech and democracy.We are incredibly lucky to be living in a society where everyone can think and say whatever they want without being persecuted by the government. So the next time you get angry at someone whose opinions differ from yours, take a deep breath and remember the amazing privilege you both have. After all, having different opinions isn’t just fine, it’s essential to a thriving democracy!As you can see, we can certainly learn a lot from people who are different from us. The next time you meet someone you would normally consider an opponent, try to open your mind and heart to the valuable life lessons they can teach you. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you learn!

I invite you to welcome those who are different than you and be smart enough to understand the lesson they tried to teach you.

About the Author
Itay is a graduate of Yizrael Valley College in Behavioral Science. He has worked as an informal educator with Israel’s Ministry of Education and is an expert in Israel and Jewish identity education. He has experience leading short-term immersive and long-term education programming to facilitate diverse Jewish learning experiences. Itay led and founded numerous social justice programs in Israel for students to come and meet Israel’s backyard and support the asylum seeker community and children in South Tel-Aviv before becoming one of the co-founders of Esperanso.
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