Sometimes I get a little uncomfortable around people who are different from me. It’s not that I don’t want to be around them, or that I think less of them, it’s just that I’m trying to figure out how to relate to them. If I have a lot in common with someone, it’s relatively easy – I just treat that person the way I would want to be treated, and everyone is happy. But what about someone who is different?
The Golden Rule says that we should treat others the way we want to be treated. A friend of mine is a customer service consultant, and he turns that around a bit – treat others the way they want to be treated. And when you’re around someone that you don’t know, how do you handle that?
For example, I haven’t spent very much of my life around gay men (that I know of). So when I’m talking with one, what do I say? How do I relate? Am I homophobic for being uncomfortable or uncertain? I could just assume that he wants to be treated a certain way based on my preconceptions of how a gay man would want to be treated, but then most of the time, that means supporting gay stereotypes, and who wants to be treated as a stereotype?
My next-door neighbours are from Russia. My neighbour down the hall is from Sudan. The Sudanese guy drives a cab. (Ooh, stereotype!) He drove me to the airport once, and we chatted. I was “uncomfortable” with him, because I didn’t know him and wanted to figure out where he was coming from. I was trying to figure out how to relate to him. I was not avoiding him and I didn’t think less of him for being African. It was not a bad discomfort. It was the kind of good discomfort you might feel being invited to a really fancy home for a really fancy dinner party, and you want to make sure to use the salad fork for your salad and not the seafood fork. It’s a different environment requiring different behaviour.
I want to do what’s right. I want to treat people the way they want to be treated. (Unless the guy’s a real jerk, but that’s another story.) And because of that, I’m uncomfortable around people different from myself – which makes me a chauvinist or something.