By Nancy L. Johnston author of Disentangle: When You’ve Lost Your Self in Someone Else

The ideas I have been suggesting for Living Closely Indefinitely are challenging. Celebrate Together, Honor Separate, and Expect Less – topics covered in my last three blogs – invite us to operate in ways that may not be our first-choice ways of being. Maybe we generally like to have our own space and are not happy about always being around others in our family. Maybe we have trouble leaving others in our household alone when they disappear into their rooms or go off on a walk and don’t invite us along. And certainly, suggesting we lower the bar for what we can hope for or expect from ourselves and others is not the direction we often go.

Learning to Respect Different can be equally challenging both in understanding what this means and in living in this way. 

Respect Different is acknowledging that we each have different thoughts, beliefs, emotional responses, choices we make, and the actions we take. We are different people with different natures and nurtures interplaying within our self.

First, we do well to be anchored in our self, to know what we are thinking and feeling and why we are choosing what we choose. This self-discerning process can be rich and calming. It helps us to be aware and intentional and to act in ways that are consistent with who we are.

Then, as we encounter Different in the next person we see, we want to listen to them and understand them. We do not have to agree with them. We are only seeking to hear them and for them to feel heard by us. Rather than interrupting and jumping in with our ideas and beliefs, we listen and make sure we have heard them accurately. We may find that we want to respond with some of our own thoughts and ideas, even our concerns for safety and justice. We can do this after we have heard and understand what they are saying.

The caution for us as we speak up is in knowing when to stop, to not go further, to agree to disagree perhaps. Our mental health is helped by not getting too entangled with trying to convince or change someone else. 

I can only control myself, and I am grateful to know this reality. I can speak my truth, explain my truth, and then the best thing I can do is go live out that truth in ways that are consistent with my beliefs. I may have to set boundaries as a result of these differences. That’s okay and important to do. Those boundaries further clarify where I stand, and they show respect for both myself and the other person by not having endless, unproductive, and self-eroding arguments over our differences.

Know what is true for me, live what is true for me, and respect the differences in others. That’s what these peppers from my Covid Garden did. I took this picture long before frost, anticipating this blog. My little basket overflows with green peppers, red peppers, sweet peppers – large and small. Each pepper grew according to the interplay of its nature and nurture. They are all peppers, but each is different.

We are all together in an overflowing basket, too, so to speak. Our mental health and our relationships with each other can be helped by the lessons from this beautiful assortment of peppers who grew together in my garden.

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