Different is not necessarily wrong

This summer my husband and I took a food tour at the Pike Place Market in Seattle.  Our guide began at a tea shop in the corner of the market – a place I wouldn’t have visited on my own.  Literally, everything in there was foreign to me, including the way they made tea.  Two lovely Chinese ladies performed a ceremony in which they poured hot water into tiny pots over an elegant, lipped tray.  The tea leaves contained leaves and miniature rose buds and a variety of other oddities that tasted delicious.  After a dozen tastings we moved on to other new culinary delights.

I do it differently.  My student, Hannah, timed how long I steep a tea bag: a whopping 8 seconds.   That’s how I make my tea.  While my students thought I should leave that puppy in there the whole time I’m drinking, I wouldn’t think of it.  It makes the drink way too strong.  Who’s right?  Me?  My students?  Or the lovely Chinese connoisseurs?  Usually we think the way we do things is naturally the right way, but I couldn’t disagree more.  It’s just a way.  That’s it.  Not necessarily the right way. Seems to me that, more often than not, people think that their way of doing things is the right way of doing things.

Want to get someone’s knickers in a knot?  Change the way things are done.  I’m not advocating this…in fact, I go out of my way (or at least I think I do) to make people’s knickers stay comfortable.  But before this analogy goes too far awry, let me explain.  I’ve been noticing more and more lately that some people are all too quick to point out something different as wrong.

And yet, different is not always wrong.  I remember feeling that it was wrong somehow when I put cheese on the top of my pizza instead of underneath the toppings; when I ran outside one summer day to say goodbye to someone and I was wearing socks; when someone opened my utensil drawer and found it – I don’t know – organized?  full?  Clearly these things are criminal.  And yet, the people I was with made me feel that my different to them was also wrong to them.

When that’s our mindset, other, more important things can become ‘wrong’ too.  It makes a person start to wonder if how they pray or worship is wrong; how one raises their kids is wrong; or any host of other behaviors or decisions.  some people are more open to and interested in how people do things differently.  Recently we were with a group of people who were talking about how we observed Sundays.  When I was growing up, it was wrong to do anything other than avoid any kind of physical activity on a Sunday.  We had to take a nap, stay very quiet and basically not have much fun.  Other Christians who love God just as much had considerably more freedom on Sundays.  Is one wrong and one right?  Or, just different?

Many advantages exist to living in and working for the same place for many years.  However, the disadvantage is that you might not see that something needs to be changed, and can be changed without the world ending, or, that others can do something differently and it’s still okay.  This is something I really want to teach my kids.  As they move away and live with other people, they will need to be more flexible with how things are done.  I’d be thrilled if they see something done a different way and be interested, curious and open.  So they can move to China and drink tea (the right way) or stay in town and rub shoulders with someone of their same ethnicity; I hope they notice something about their new friends and be intrigued….and maybe even come home and show me how it’s done!


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