How I Bridge the Gap with People Who Think Differently than Me

Something to consider in these difficult times.

It’s hard to know what to say to people who think differently than you right now. Whether it’s politics, religion, or culture, when you don’t see eye-to-eye with people, it can create tense situations. As someone who has navigated between worlds my whole life, I learned how to meet people where they are.

Cultural shape-shifting

For a lot of my life, I’ve experienced discomfort over my bi-cultural identity. I was born on American soil, making me American. Still, I embrace my South Asian side. I always have.

As my own unique ray of light, I didn’t always hit the mark by showing those sides at different times. Since I spent much of my pre-teen years as the only person of color in the room, I shared my heritage as much as possible. That led to my sixth-grade teacher telling me I was too pro-Indian, and she was Italian and didn’t talk always talk about it.

Point taken.

When I went around relatives or other South Asians, I amused them with my limited language ability and limited knowledge of Indian/Pakistani fashion.

My American ways shine through, no matter where I go. At least, I can say I always connected with my culture as best I could, given my limited access to it. It didn’t seem to be enough, many times.

In short, I was too American for South Asians and too South Asian for Americans.

That used to bother me, but now, I could care less. I learned to embrace being a cultural hybrid. My cultural level is enough for you, or it isn’t. Either way, my world still spins.

Choosing a side (or not)

For people who like to put things in a neat little box, that’s a problem.

Years ago, my mother told me about a conversation she had with someone who expressed disdain for the whole East/West idea. This person said those people should pick one and not do both.

My mother immediately recognized that statement as a dig at me. Her response: if you can do it, why not?

That’s exactly how I feel about it. I see my exposure to two cultures as a gift. I take what I identify as the best of both and apply it to my life as I see fit. If someone else doesn’t agree with that, I don’t see it as my job to convince them of anything.

When people get pushy

The other part of me I embrace is the Muslim part. Since I’m not very religious, I don’t practice in a way that you would be able to tell I am Muslim right away. I don’t cover my hair, and I wear shorts and dresses that go above my knee.

This disregard for traditional practice has gotten me into trouble on occasion.

Many years ago, I attended a New Year’s Eve get-together. I don’t remember what I wore precisely, but I know it was a tiny dress. I was in my twenties. It was what I did.

I don’t know why or how I got into a conversation that led me to reveal my Muslimness. But the judgy Christian I spoke with called me a “fake Muslim” for how I dressed when I didn’t ask for her opinion on the subject. Since it was a party, I didn’t argue. Her boyfriend told her to back off.

She made me uncomfortable, but again, I am not interested in convincing someone of anything or having them sign off on anything I’m doing.

Agree to disagree

I have reached a point in my life where I am not attached to anyone’s opinion of me. I don’t need anyone to agree with me. If they don’t, I don’t get emotional about it.

So much happens that warrants my emotion. Someone else’s opinion is dust in the wind to me.

Even in this time of division, someone not thinking the same as me shouldn’t be a basis for argument. They have experiences that have led them to be as they are like I do.

I have come to accept that some people have a limited capacity for compassion. Again, their life experiences have led them there. Since their lack of compassion could affect me, I choose not to engage with them. I know how to respect people from a distance if I need to.

Bridging the gap

When we get into those discussions of one side or another, it’s an invitation to division. In some cases, it leads to an understanding of people’s stance on issues, but when we entangle ourselves into hard-lined judgments of those stances, that’s when we get into trouble.

Understanding someone’s perspective doesn’t mean you change anything about yourself. Arguing or trying to convince someone to be as you are or think as you think negates someone else’s life experience.

As I’ve wanted people to understand my life experiences, I try to understand theirs.

We all want to be accepted as we are and not judged, to be left alone as we do what we do.

Whatever someone else believes or does, is either for you or not. It’s that simple and that complicated at the same time. I’ve found, in most cases, it’s not worth the energy of an argument.

In my life, I embraced my hybrid nature, regardless of whether or not someone else did. I stopped letting my emotions overtake me when they didn’t understand or accept it.

Accept what is. Decide what you want to do with that information. Move on.

That’s how you bridge the gap. And remember that the great thing about bridges is you don’t have to cross them.

Former teacher who retired early to pursue a passion for writing. Personal development content writer and fiction author. Dog mom. www.sameenakmughal.com

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