We are Different: the psychology of “other”

As human beings we need to make sense of our world. We categorize, sort, judge, make decisions and put “our spin” on what we see, think, feel. Part of this is how we think of difference. I believe we all need to work on our prejudices, our thoughts, and our judgments on a daily basis. We need to understand that we inherently categorize the world and it is our responsibility to monitor how we do that, and how our children do that. As a child this starts with “we are the same,” or “you are not like me in some way.” On a playground there is bullying, and “You cannot play with us.” It is heartbreaking as a parent to know your child is being left out. All children benefit from good parenting, and from schools teaching inclusion, curiosity, and open, respectful dialogue. Remember also that children are acutely aware of an adults nonverbal behavior. How did mom behave when that person appeared at the door or on the street?

We are talking about those we see as like us and those we see as different, or those we see as some kind of “other.” The difference can be race, skin color, language, religion, politics, height, weight, grammar, gender, sexuality or any other demographic. “We are Different and We are the Same,” was written as a story to highlight a child’s attempts at making sense of the complexity, and an opportunity for a caregiver to read it and discuss it, to model acceptance and understanding.

For Atreus (my grandson) it is making sense of being biracial, of having attributes like his dad and others like his mom. It is also growing up, so far, in China, where the vast majority of other children he sees and plays with are Chinese, and there are social norms that are culturally different from North America. Cultural differences cause conflict. Much of it can be avoided if there is enough understanding. Let’s focus on being respectful global citizens. There is more and more likelihood that your family system, like mine, will have multiple opportunities close to home to work on these issues. There certainly will be diversity at school, on any playground. It’s our job to focus on modeling and teaching our children to challenge themselves, and others, when they make judgments that harm. Let us help them also find the similarities, the bridges to relationship, the ways we are all the same. Dr. Kimberly