When people can understand each other in spite of differences, then those differences create space for each person to be authentic. Criticizing people for differences can cause them to agree with thoughts that are contrary to their own for the purpose of being accepted by individuals or groups.

In a political climate, people may align themselves with a certain group or agree with a viewpoint other than their own, to avoid being ostracized by peers or even family members. A new buzz word for the phenomenon of trying to look good for doing or saying the right thing is called virtue signaling. People who practice this believe that putting on the façade of agreeing with others is the way to be accepted by them. The reality is that by pretending to do anything diminishes one’s power to be authentic. Why would anyone want to relinquish their genuineness? The first reason that comes to mind is for acceptance.

The Trump-Clinton presidential election drove a wedge between many a friend and family member who differed with each other. So how about those who held different views, but pretended otherwise to avoid creating a rift in those close relationships? What advice do we have for those fearful of losing close bonds with others or “virtue signalers?” Understanding is powerful! Understanding others doesn’t require agreement.

Having boundaries between people, including differences of opinions, actually increases intimacy. In her graduate thesis, Frances Goddard named this concept difference without distance. This means that people value authenticity and genuineness in others. These differences can lead to broadening the views of others, but at the least it is a show of respect for all.

In a recent end of year class luncheon, a student became outraged because she was taught to pray before eating. Others didn’t adhere to her practice and started eating immediately when the servers placed the food on the table. The student began to pray at the top of her lungs to shame others. After the gathering, the professor talked to the student about her behavior, asking why she was so irritated that her peers did not pray. The student replied, “I was raised that people should thank God for their meal.” The professor asked, “So how would you feel if someone told you that you couldn’t pray before meals?” The student exclaimed that she could not like it! The professor said, “Exactly!” Once the student understood that people have different views on prayer, she realized that she could hold on to her beliefs without imposing them on others.

In essence, if a person is willing to understand how people got the way they are, then they can hang on to their own differences and values without losing any of their self-identity. Once the student above realized that she was angry at her peers because they shared different values, she broadened her view that people have different upbringings.

Being disingenuous denies authenticity. People value others being true to their beliefs even if they are different. This is difference without distance!

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