The oxymoronic behaviors of my peers in high school boggled my mind: be your own person, but not so much that people think you’re weird; express your individuality, but only in ways that will be appreciated by everyone else; and my favorite: accept all kinds of people but stick with your group. Suddenly, no one was who I had known before. The more people I saw in high school, the more I began to resent them all for losing their identities.
This mindset didn’t change until I had to sit next to a girl I’d always disliked in an AP anatomy class. When forced to interact with her in a class room setting, I really began to see the little things that made her unique as a person. She was beautiful to be sure, but she was also funny, shy, and a little bit quirky. She had fears, ideas, and feelings just like I did. I could actually connect with this girl that I thought I would never understand or get to know.
That was the class that completely changed my perceptions of people. I realized just how backwards my thinking had been. Everyone needs the same things: acceptance, love, meaningful relationships, and feelings of worth. By judging people on anything at all, we are missing the true point of our humanity. If you judge someone on how they look, you aren’t getting to know a person at all. If you judge a person based on their actions, you aren’t taking the time to understand why they might have done what they did.
All people are shaped by their experiences, and thus everyone is different. No matter how much society tries to create certain “types” of people, we can always choose to see people for strictly who they are individually. With this in mind, it’s easier to open my mind to the possibility that people are not always what they seem. This not only helps me to be more understanding of people’s actions, beliefs, and behaviors, but it also makes life more interesting and full of new perspectives.
Being open to new perspectives and lifestyles isn’t always easy, and I would be lying if I said I always understood people’s perspectives or could find ways to agree with them. But accepting people for who they are allows us to find commonalities between ourselves and others, rather than focusing on our differences and creating a chasm between us. This is the key to connecting with all people, no matter how completely different they are from us as individuals.
In retrospect, it hasn’t always been easy for me to enforce my belief in being open-minded towards all sorts of people in all sorts of situations. It makes people angry sometimes, and creates tension when it goes against the majority view. But life is about finding your own way and what you believe in, not conformity. To me that is accepting every kind of person, no matter what.