I had a friend that grew up with a pretty rough background. He had been using drugs and alcohol his whole life even from a very young age. He was always in and out of jail and getting into fights. This is because he was raised around these kind of things: his father was in prison and his mother was a drug addict and alcoholic. From a young age, he was allowed to run the streets, so he hung out with a bad group of people.
By contrast, I was raised in a very strict household. I had to ask to even go out in my own yard, and I never so much as saw a drug in person until I was about 18. (No, I have never done drugs.) And I was never in trouble with the law.
So you can see how this would be an unlikely friendship. But I just saw the good in him. Deep down, he was a really great guy. He never pressured you to do anything you didn’t want to do, and he was just one of those people who made you smile and laugh. When he did those bad things it’s like he was on autopilot, like they were normal. But that’s how he was raised. I looked passed it and saw him for who he really was.
I’m sad to say he committed suicide a few years back, and I miss him. I’ll always treasure our friendship, which to me is proof that friendship with people who are very different than you is possible.
I also think of a guy I’m still friends with. He was raised in a rough part of the city where he had to fight to survive and where he had to help his mom and brothers get by. I grew up in a little town across the river where it was very quiet and we never had any trouble. He is African American, and I’m white.
Race shouldn’t matter when it comes to friendships, but unfortunately, it still does sometimes. Our friendship, though, is just one example of many out there that race doesn’t have to divide us as people. He doesn’t see me and judge me based on the color of my skin or the way I was raised. And I didn’t take his background and form an image of who or what he is in my head. I simply saw him—and see him—for who he really is: a really great guy who is fun to be around.
Based on these personal experiences, I know that friendships with people who are different than you are possible. But too often, we divide ourselves as people because of titles. We think we can’t love each other because we can only like people that are the same as us, or believe the same as us. And I don’t think the media helps: you hear something in the media, believe it right away, and we continue the divisions. But we need to stop being sheep to the media. We can think for ourselves, and instead of basing people off their “titles,” we can base them off of who the other person is as a person.
This New Year, we can see people for who they are and not let their background make them who they are. Because no matter what people say, people can change if they want to. And we don’t have to make snap judgments about people that we really don’t know. Let’s give them a chance and get to know them. People might surprise us, and we might have common interests. And if not, oh well. No harm done. We can accept that people are different than us. There is only one of me out there, and only I am going to think the way I do in every aspect.
Doing little things to make our everyday interactions with people a little friendlier could also make us better people in our relationships and families. If you learn to love people for who they really are, you can learn to get along with that family member that’s hard to deal with. Because if you can get along with a complete stranger, you can get along with family. And if you accept that people are different than you, it can help you accept differences between you and your spouse.
We are all people, we are all the same on the inside; we all breathe air and bleed. So this new year, let’s love people as we would like to be loved. And the next time we find ourselves judging someone, let’s stop and think: why am I being so hateful? Who knows, we might just discover an unexpected friendship.
Flickr/ Craig Sunter