I grew up watching the Lawrence Welk Show, a variety show featuring musical numbers and skits. My grandparents loved it and watched it most Saturday nights. Thirty years later when Saturday Night Live did a Lawrence Welk spoof called the Maharelle Sisters, I saw it in a different light. In the original skit, four beautiful women serenaded the suave, handsome token male. Saturday Night Live switched one of the perky, pretty character’s named Linda with Denise, a socially awkward gal with a deformed hand who grabbed, poked and touched inappropriately, making the audience squirm in their uncomfortableness.
I wondered if Saturday Night Live was teaching us a lesson about tolerance and acceptance? They used comedy to throw social awkwardness in our face. I related with this SNL character Denise because not only had I shared an out-of-place joke, carried on a conversation not knowing I had a piece of spinach stuck between my teeth, and laughed a bit too loud in a quiet, subdued crowd, I also have had a deep-seated belief that I am different.
As a child, I was told I looked different. I understood that to mean there was something wrong with me, and that I was not enough. We each come into this world with our unique blueprint, including all shapes, sizes, personalities, ethnicities, and religions. Why does being different mean bad? Someone who looks differently, acts differently, or thinks differently than us makes us feel uncomfortable, but all relationships are within us. They mirror back to us our beliefs, our patterns, and our conditioned responses. Instead of asking ourselves, “What is it about this person that makes me feel uncomfortable,” we project it unto the person, judging, blaming and labeling them as bad. It is our rejection of others that is out of balance. When we throw our imbalance against others, we create hostility.
Since the beginning of time, there have been tyrants, demanding that people that are different; immigrants, refugees, and foreigners prove their citizenship. We all are citizens of the human race. We cannot deny the human spirit and human dignity that lives in each of us. This life force gives us the courage to face adversity and dream for a better tomorrow. It encourages us to pay attention to what is happening inside ourselves so that we will develop compassion for all people, especially those with less power. Differences are our teachers. They help us to recognize and honor the richness, complexity, and unpredictability that exists in each of us and the world.
Rigid either-or thinking demands that someone is good, and someone is bad. It insists that someone is right, and someone is wrong. Either-or thinking blocks us from getting in touch with the core of humanity in each of us. Instead of focusing on the positive elements of our nature like empathy, acceptance, and understanding, it believes that life is to be dueled, leading us to fighting, gridlock, divorce, and wars.
The first step in accepting the world and getting along with people that are different than us is accepting ourselves. Once we let go of the walls, we have built within ourselves; we can accept other people. It takes tremendous courage to face our judgments, our limiting beliefs, and our fears. It takes even greater courage to claim our strengths. Once we start to understand there is a beauty and a power that lies deep inside each one of us, we realize we are all in this together, allowing space for flexibility, openness, compromise, and collaboration. It is in this act of acceptance that we come into balance.