Have you ever done this? You're at the grocery store, holding two boxes of cereal reading the nutrition information, trying to decide which one to buy. Ultimately, you pick the one that most closely matches the things you value. Maybe it's organic, or has a lot of protein and fiber, maybe you just like the inspiring language on the box. While this strategy works great for buying cereal, it can sometimes get in our way of being compassionate. I know, that's a big leap, but hear me out.
In the example above, we focus on the differences for the sole purpose of eliminating options. With all this "difference noticing" there's a judgement that comes along with it - "This cereal doesn't have enough protein." It's the judgement part that can get our minds in trouble, especially when we do that with people. We separate people into groups, and groups we're not in become "THEY." And "they" cause us problems. But is that really true?
Sometimes, no -- many times -- those judgements are based on superficial knowledge. We learn something more, and our minds change. Our minds changing is a good thing. Great art is great art because it changes our mind about something. Think about your favorite movie, or song, or whatever piece of art that has moved you. What about it changed your mind? Didn't that change of mind make your life better in some way? If your answer is "yes," then try using the question in the next paragraph when you feel social anxiety.
Let's propose a challenge to our minds, to try out for today. When you come across somebody, ask yourself, "what is the SAME between us?" Maybe you notice, "We're both waiting in this long line; we both have kale in our shopping carts; we both drive blue cars." It might seem like a trivial similarity, but that's not the point. You can use similarities to reach out and create a connection.
Start small, maybe just a friendly smile or nod. If you're feeling brave, try starting a conversation about that sameness you noticed. It might feel awkward, and it might not result in much. But then again, it could feel great and result in a new connection that could change your life forever.
It's an experiment. See what you notice.
Michael Stanclift, ND
Naturopathic Doctor in Carlsbad California