A Dialogue with Difference

The 20th leg of the Camino

And we are invited by our guide to consider difference. And this is another invitation that I want to pull away from.

I am an immigrant to a country so influenced by American media the people expect no difference in me. I expect no difference in them. So when it comes, subtle but essential, it burns. You know, how when you are distracted and it actually takes a surprisingly long time for the pain to register? Oh: this tiny detail is important. The knuckle touching an oven rack while you are concentrating on keeping the cake still enough to avoid it’s collapse.

Then everything collapses.

It is somehow easier when you know you are a stranger in a strange place. Easier than being a stranger in a familiar place.

Familiar is not the same as known. Even the words are a world apart.

We learn quickly to recognize and categorize the world and the things in it. People, puppies. Furry things with swishing tails and sharp claws are not puppies, they are angry cats. Women of a certain age are mommies. Women of “a certain age” are grandmothers. Things that taste metallic and bitter are poisonous. Except broccoli.

We resist those exceptions that do not fit into our system. The exceptions, and the ambiguities they present, threaten our survival.

A difference challenges what I know of the world, and to open a dialogue is frightening. But we can’t really ever know the world, it is continuously changing.

I suppose it hits every generation, too – when the pendulum swings, or the tide turns – and what you knew is only familiar now. You are an immigrant in your own country: what you thought was sexy is tacky, was classic is passé, was polite is offensive.

If opening oneself to a dialogue with the unknown wasn’t difficult enough, a dialogue takes two willing voices.  A dialogue is not a call and response. It’s not a monologue and an echo.

What more can we do but to practice walking a middle way and listen? To keep perspective while considering other perspectives? A discussion that doesn’t aim at persuasion, that isn’t fueled by the hope of conversion.

I long for more discussions fueled by curiosity and compassion.

Not all differences have a resolution – only the dialogue towards a resolution. And that ongoing openness has to be enough, because the world is continuously changing.

Swallows in the feed.
Blue tits in the holly hedge
call impatiently.


2 Replies to “A Dialogue with Difference”

  1. Lately, it seems to me we ought to open a dialogue with fear. Fear is so familiar. But it isn’t — as you say — the same as known.


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