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2013-01-28

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January 27, 2013 - 8:32pm

Lincoln Logs: I don't like you, let's talk

BY HARSHA NAHATA

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”– Abraham Lincoln

I don’t know how many times I’ve distanced myself from people that I thought saw differently than me. Or believed differently. People that I couldn’t see myself relating to. People who’s views I fundamentally disagreed with. Or simply people I just didn’t click with — those that I decided I “didn’t like.”

When someone rubs us the wrong way, it seems that our first instinct is to distance ourselves. As much as we appreciate diversity, we tend to clump towards people with shared experiences and shared views. We distance ourselves based on religious affiliation, ethnic identity, political views, lifestyle choices, you name it.

Our initial instinct is often to judge, not to understand. To some extent, it isn’t possible not to make snap judgments. We’re hardwired to assess situations as quickly as possible using heuristics and guideposts. With so much information thrown at us so frequently, it’s necessary to have these shortcuts and make snap associations, if for no other reason than to stay sane.

But once we’ve made that initial judgment, perhaps it’s necessary to do more. Maybe we can acknowledge that there are parts of people’s personalities we may not like, but go beyond that to understand who they are.

I know I’ve never approached a situation the way Lincoln proposes here. I’ve never gone into a conversation or situation with someone I’ve decided I don’t mesh with thinking I would like to get to know them better. Instead, I’ve tried to avoid such situations altogether. And I’m sure many of you have too.

However, it might not be so bad to have this perspective every once in a while. To see conflict or disagreement, not as an uncomfortable situation to be avoided at all cost, but as an opportunity to learn and understand. To not let our initial judgments limit us, but to go beyond them to appreciate something in everyone.

Harsha Nahata can be reached at hnahata@umich.edu.