Everyone on the planet has some descriptive word or set of descriptive words attached to them. These descriptive words represent gender, personality style, religious beliefs, race, country of origin, and many other characteristics of us as people.
These descriptors almost universally come from clearly observable behaviors, thought processes, or attitudes common to a group of people. In and of themselves, most descriptors are neutral – neither good nor bad. It is what we do with them and how we use them that determines their worth and value in buildingrelationships.
For example, I am a man and my wife is a woman. I have read many books and articles, listened to many audio programs, and attended many workshops in an effort to learn what I need to learn to make our relationship as powerful and dynamic as possible. In nearly twenty years of marriage and after many efforts to understand this other human in my life, I have come to two startling conclusions:
- In general, men and women do not process information the same way. They do not tend to see the world through the same lens, interact with people in the same way, or have the same emotional needs.
- No matter how hard I try, my wife will not think the way that I do and I will not think the way that she does.
There, I said it. Men and women are different.
Now, what do I do with this information?
I see two clear options. One, I can label, classify, and put my wife in the “woman” box so that the word “woman” becomes a label on her and her approach to life. Or two, I can use the “statistical norm” that describes the female perspective to create a reference frame for entering her world to understand her in a deeper and better way.
The first approach leads to stereotyping, criticizing and tolerating the other person. In my experience, I have never met someone who wanted to be stereotyped, criticized, or tolerated.
The second approach leads me to use what I have learned about the “typical” female perspective to discuss things with my wife. (No, I do not believe that there is a “typical” female response. I am using this phrase very lightly, and just to make a point.) Based on this understanding of how women often interpret a situation, I can engage in conversation and dialogue with my wife to better understand her unique perspective. I use the “statistical norm” describing the general female perspective to help me understand how we might see a situation differently. Understanding the general differences gives me a lens to see into her world rather than to reach a judgment of her.
As we work, interact, and communicate with others, understanding our differences can help us to connect at a deeper level. Using this understanding to build bridges to others rather than to label and judge others creates a positive environment where we can move past tolerance to celebration.