Family affair

A Family Affair: Celebrating Our Differences

Jacob Priest is a licensed marriage and family therapist and professor at the University of Iowa. He co-hosts the attached podcast. (Jacob Priest)

Last weekend I met my two brothers in Boulder, Colo.

The three of us are alike in many ways. We have the same mannerisms, sound pretty similar, and we have a lot of inside jokes. But my brothers and I are also different. One owns his own marketing business. The other does commercial real estate. And I’m a family therapy teacher. We love fantastic shows and science fiction. The other could watch college football every Saturday. I don’t mind sci-fi or football either, but would rather spend my Saturday at Rodina enjoying good food and wine.

If we weren’t related, we might not know each other. We live in different states, have different religious beliefs, and our political views are not fully aligned.

But those differences were why our trip to Boulder was so much fun. We talked about our relationships, our work, our beliefs and our goals. We don’t always agree, but we have always listened. We valued each other’s experience, opinions and beliefs. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all heavy conversation. We movies also quoted to each other, teased each other and complained about the mixed dining experiences we had in Boulder.

Too often in relationships we place a high value on similarity. We surround ourselves with people who think like us, think like us and vote like us. We seek those that will strengthen what we already believe, rather than to disagree with us.

It’s not always bad. It’s good to see our ideas and opinions valued and supported. But sometimes being surrounded by similarities leads to missing out on the incredible connection that only differences can create.

Having conversations across differences can be difficult. Hearing someone who disagrees with your ideas or beliefs may get angry or upset. Sometimes this is justified. When someone attacks our identity or attempts to start an argument in bad faith, it is not really a conversation.

But if we can learn to listen beyond the differences and share our ideas in a way that invites the connection, the richness of the difference can improve our relations.

When you start planning your holiday meetings with your family, instead of trying to avoid conversations about the differences, you invite. You probably should not do around the dinner table or at times when it happens a lot. But if you can find time to sit down with loved ones who think differently from you, listen to them and ask them to listen to your ideas, you may find that your relationship with that person improves, and not empire.

It won’t always work, especially not the first time. But if we can re-engage those who lovingly think and believe differently from us, over time those relationships might be better than you ever thought possible.

At least, that’s what I found with my brothers.

Jacob Priest is a licensed marriage and family therapist and professor at the University of Iowa. He co-hosts the attached podcast. Comments: [email protected]