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Why It’s Important To Know People Who Are Different Than You

Lori Freson

Responsibilities & Values

In America, we pride ourselves on diversity. We are a country built of immigrants from many different lands, and one where people have sought and found freedom for themselves and their families for centuries. Diversity is “the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientations, etc.”. Although we Americans love to think we are diverse, I can’t help but wonder if we are really doing such a good job with this.

Many of us who live in big cities are exposed to diversity in our daily lives. For others, they are quite isolated from diversity. Some of us think we are experiencing diversity, when maybe we really aren’t. For example, I grew up in a multi-ethnic neighborhood and went all through school with kids of many different nationalities. However, we all lived in a nice upper middle-class neighborhood, and really weren’t all that different from one another. It wasn’t until I was a bit older into my school years, that I really saw kids that were different and began to understand what that really meant.

I would argue that it is extremely important for you and your children to know people that are different from you. I mean really different from you. You need to be exposed to people of different races, religions and nationalities. But you also need to know people with special needs, people of different socio-economic backgrounds, and even homeless people. Now you might be wondering why this is important at all. Here are some reasons:

  1. You cannot truly understand how privileged you are until you see firsthand those that have less than you. Not everyone has a cozy home and three meals a day.
  2. Knowing people that are different from you allows you to see and learn about different types of struggles people might have. This allows you to develop empathy, which is an important life skill.
  3. Sometimes, people who are different from us inspire us to do something different, better or more meaningful. It can help people work hard to “rise up” and can lead people towards a life of service, etc.
  4. If your child attends a private or religious school, where nearly everyone is one color and one religion, there is probably not much diversity going on. They will only see the world through their eyes, thinking everyone is just like them. They need to know how to talk with different kinds of people and how to interact and converse with them.
  5. No matter where you grow up or what schools you attend, the real world is full of diversity. It is best to be exposed to this from a young age and learn to respect and discuss these differences. Otherwise, what happens when you leave college and get employed by an African-American boss or work on a team with a Muslim woman wearing a hijab?
  6. It is important to understand that all people have value and worth, even when they are poor, mentally ill, or speak with an accent. Their value comes from the inside, and good people don’t always look or dress or speak like you do.
  7. We can all learn from one another. We can learn about tolerance and respect. We can learn about different cultures and religions. We can learn about history and the suffering of others.
  8. Knowing different people makes the world a safer and better place. We can break down fears and stereotypes, and can love and help one another rather perpetuate hate and war.
  9. Diversity offers differing perspectives, when we might otherwise think we are always “right”. This can expand the way we think and approach the world, which is good for productivity.
  10. Diversity connects us all as humans, and reminds of who we really are and who we can be. It can act like a mirror, and motivate us to be our best selves.

It is one thing to talk the talk of diversity. It’s another thing entirely to really back that up with action. Make sure you and your children have plenty of diversity in your lives.

If you’re in all white Catholic school, sign your kid up for a soccer league with kids from all different parts of town, different ethnicities and different socioeconomic backgrounds.

If you live in a posh neighborhood, take your family and go volunteer at a homeless shelter. Sign up to be a “buddy” for a person with special needs. I could go on and on. There are endless ways and opportunities for adding diversity to your and your children’s lives. This is important, so find the ways that are right for you and your family.

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Lori Freson

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.