Honoring differences is central to creating and maintaining family relationships.

Families develop their own way of doing things in their home. This is most apparent at dinnertime. One family may decide to eat sitting down on the floor, while another family convenes at a table. One family may eat around 10pm, while other families traditionally eat their meal around 6pm.

In my family, we choose to focus on the food rather than interviewing or interrogating each other on how our day went, or how our lives are. This approach may upset a few familiarities. Food is a gateway to bonding and a way for social relationships to develop and evolve, especially when there’s a thirst for emotional intimacy.

Some individuals may foster a sense of isolation, so family eats together to satisfy curiosity or a desire to catch up with one another. The conversation may enliven over the meal. While the food is being consumed, the focus becomes answering questions rather than the eating ritual.

There are many ways to bond other than through the ritual of eating. However, if there’s an expectation that eating is the gateway for that social bonding to happen, then other options may be not be as fruitful. This comes down to how we choose to honor the differences in our home.

Meals as a social gateway may not be a custom guests or extended relatives participate in. For instance, if a relative has a deep-rooted need for affirmation to feel a sense of belonging, and the eating ritual is customarily used to satisfy that need, if the relative doesn’t receive that attention they may feel isolated. Worse still, they may feel a sense of aloofness or rejection from the family. That can lead to less participation and thus less interest in family rituals.

In this situation, food is the expected domain for family bonding. In that sense, whether it be mindful eating, eating just the food, enjoying the food, savoring the food, and then doing something social to accompany the food ritual, the entire ritual becomes an emotional event, an event that is emotionally disruptive for the participant that expects something else. This is very common in family dynamics where the social matters at hand and current events of the day are discussed through the meal.

This can lead to the loss of feeling socially connected. Honoring differences is something that we offer from the heart. When we are aware that there is a difference between how we socialize vs. how another socializes, we have the equipment in our heart to draw forth compassion and soften our edges into those differences. Rather than attempting to change those differences, walking into these important social exchanges with the expectation that things will be different than we are used to entitles us to be socially nourished. This action fosters understanding and tolerance.

Whenever I go into a family that is different than my own, whether it be a new family or just an extended branch of my family, I hold onto the understanding that they may have different ways of doing things.

I remember visiting extended family that who were vegetable-oriented, without protein. I remember asking myself, “What can I learn from this difference?” I don’t have to agree with it, but I can meet it, and there’s something quite nice about the experience of noticing something different and experiencing that. I may prefer protein, but it’s not how they do it, and the experience enabled me to understand why they don’t do it.

In the movie Counterculture, the ritual for New Year’s Eve is presented as preparing dinner at 12 midnight, and then open gifts on New Year’s Eve. Some others prefer to do this on Christmas Day. Doing things a certain way is part of our system of organization, a framework of recursive coordinations, in the same way we use language.

Interestingly, this can also cause habitual judgment, which is a voice of judgment about the way that things should be rather than the way things are. This causes us to impose a rule on what the other needs to be doing differently. Sometimes, when that rule isn’t met, there’s a premeditated disappointment. This can manifest as anger, frustration, or perhaps rejection, which then turns to a sense of being offended. Typically, an offending action begins to occur as a result of this. The offending action can be any number of negative actions, from becoming aggressive to feeling the situation altogether.

In order to avoid this, it’s best that we remember to keep an open nature. In situations where we do see differences, it’s important to keep in mind that these are opportunities for learning. When we see differences in the way our older siblings (or perhaps our dear friends) eat with their families, we must remember that their home is, by design, their own home.

Our homes are domains of control and custom where we create an environment. That environment has a certain set of rituals, and those rituals include expected ways of behaving. There will be differences in how we approach these rituals. Accepting these differences offers maturity, emotional intelligence, the ability to self-manage, to be socially aware, and to regulate some of our our mental processes about what we’re supposed to see or what the other is supposed to be doing versus the way they are.

Ultimately, this offers a choice to radically accept differences.

We can’t do this from the head. We have to look at our hearts and to perceive things more from our hearts to soften our edges into these differences.

As a whole, the world offers a different way of existing from person-to-person. If we can get to a place of mutually respect–to love one another, accept one another–that opens up an expanding, wise heart for us to come into these situations able to surrender ourselves with kindness and generosity.

When we experience ourselves to be loving and have these open natures, we allow ourselves to do a great deal of learning. What lives outside the familiar is what really renews and animates us. It keeps us young.

Following are some helpful guidelines to assist with allowing yourself to respect others in a way that facilitates learning.

RESPECTING: Defined as “looking again” at a person with the intention of taking in more of them and understanding what has created their particular experience. Respect is underlined with the principle of “coherence.”

Coherence, based on a concept of wholeness, leads us to look for the possibility that whatever is unfolding is doing so from some element of commonality. It involves cultivating a capacity for respect: “for myself, for others, for difference, and for those in particular who oppose what I have to say or think”.

It’s important to remember this is not about reaching agreement – it’s more like being able to tolerate difference, conflict, pain, anger, all the elements that are likely to arise in a group.

Respecting is to treat every other as a legitimate other. Looking again is about helping them appear. You hear the person behind the words, not just the person. You hear their voice, then come back to your own, and move from outside your own bubble, from a 3rd person orientation.

These concepts are outlined in my Sessions at Sunrise podcast episode entitled “Respecting.” You can listen below:

video preview

The four practices for learning to respect are:

Stand at the hub
Picture a spinning wheel. Much like that, our awareness needs to be
centered at the hub of a wheel, which might be thought of as the “essence of things.” This is a first step to remove ourselves from the turmoil of past and future and to really engage with another person as they actually are, rather than where we want them to be.

I relate this to the martial arts practice of becoming “rooted but flexible.”
This prevents one from being blown off course by those in opposition. You simply to yourself, “stay present, it’s like this…” and choose to stay with what is actually happening, like softening your edges into current reality.

Listen as if it were all in me
This concept is based off the idea that if we can perceive something in one another, it’s also a part of our own mental world. When irritated by someone’s contribution, we can examine our own thought processes, feelings, and behavior to find where we might have the same thing in us. From this point, it is easier to fully acknowledge the other – not to agree, but to include whatever it is in the whole.

Make it strange
Sometimes, by rushing to a point of understanding, we make assumptions about others that are invalid by assigning them to a category too readily. By making the other strange, there is a chance to experience them in a new way that is about them, and not about us. Making room in ourselves is to accept the ‘stranger’ as if we see from fresh eyes, like the Zen tradition: “cultivate a don’t know mind.”

What these tools offer you is a listening from a wiser heart. And by operating from this inner place, differences are honored, and they become teachers of compassion, curiosity, and courage—which combined bring forth the very best of ourselves—to be kind, generous, compassionate, and aware of our deeper Self.

If this place is already within us, then the path to respect is to see and sense and feel what is in front of us, coming toward us, and “showing up.”

For more insights like this, check out my book Stay Longer Listen Deeper, available on Lulu.com.