We love to find things in common with others. It makes for smooth sailing, doesn’t it? We like roommates who clean the way we do, co-workers with our same work ethic, and spouses who applaud all our opinions. We also like movies that end with woodland animals happily tying the sash of the princess’s pinafore. At least I do. But it’s not realistic.
In real life, yes, sometimes you find kindred spirits who make work and life easy. But for the most part, we are thrust into this world as beings who sometimes wonder if we arrived on the right planet. Families, schools, workplaces-they all seem filled with people who are vastly different than we are. When conflict seems to be the constant ingredient in our relationships, arguments erupt, feelings get hurt, and people decide they simply can’t get along with this person or that person.
Bosses hear it from employees all the time: I can’t work with him. Marriage counselors talk with couples who say, we’re just not compatible. Bishops hear complaints about committee members, and even Visiting Teachers sometimes ask to be changed because we have nothing in common.
I’d like to address this whole concept of compatibility and say that it’s enormously overrated. Somewhere along the line we embraced the message that we have to share identical views and habits with everyone around us, or throw our hands in the air and refuse to work with them. It’s such a destructive position that I even wonder if the adversary were behind the concept in the first place. Here are six reasons why we all need to stop worrying about compatibility:
1. First of all, we should expect differences, even from folks raised in our same households, because we’re different people! No two of us are going to look alike, think alike, or behave alike. It’s called individuality and it’s what makes us unique and singular in all the world. We aren’t mean to be carbon copies of one another, but distinctive and irreplaceable spirits with our own personalities. Like notes in a symphony or colors in a painting, you need variety to make it work. Constantly trying to change one’s spouses or friends into mirror images of oneself goes against the very grain of creation. And, you may have noticed, it ticks off your targets.
2.This is not computer dating. You are not supposed to be matched up point for point with everyone you serve. As Home and Visiting Teachers, you are not being paired up with a fast friend your same age with your same number of children and your same income bracket. Committees shouldn’t be made up of think-alikes, either. William Wrigley once said, “When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” We’re also wise to include variety in our circle of friends; it teaches us, broadens our understanding, and enriches our lives. Even a neighborhood benefits and grows more when comprised of dissimilar elements. And think of missionary work: How can we share the gospel with others if everyone we know is LDS?
3.We should celebrate differences, not gasp when they arise. Marriages where each spouse feels free to express preferences are always healthier than unions where one person calls all the shots. Mutual respect requires that varying opinions can be shared safely, without condemnation or dismissal. Sameness was never intended, as evidenced by the fact that we are men and women, coming to the table with built-in differences already. I, for one, cannot wait to see how the thermostat will magically be set to please both people in a marriage, in the life to come. But I have faith that this trivial problem will be worked out. Sameness in preferences shouldn’t be our goal-it can lead to ruts and boring routines. When there are lively differences, we need not feel threatened, but thrilled; now we can expand our tastes, learn to compromise, and discover new ideas we might never have encountered otherwise. Obviously you need to agree about your commitment to the gospel, finances, and parenting decisions. But enjoy diversity in the rest of it, and grow from exposure to new ideas.
4.You’re not as incompatible as you think. It’s human nature to size someone up at first glance, but how many times have you drawn conclusions you later learned were wrong? Perhaps you’ve discovered that you share the same taste in books, travel, sports, or humor. Maybe this person is going through a trial you’ve experienced, and you can help them. We actually have more in common than not, even with people from completely different cultures and age brackets. People are, in their hearts, very much alike. But you find what you look for. If you’re sure this person is going to be dissimilar, you’ll be on the look-out for evidence of that. Conversely, if you set aside fault-finding and seek similarities instead, you’ll be amazed at how many you discover.
5.We should expect to put effort into our relationships. Good ones require that we roll up our sleeves, sacrifice, and work hard to solve problems. It’s immature to think that people will always “click,” with no energy on our part. Learning to get along with others is one of life’s great lessons, and one that doesn’t come without difficulty. But just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. In fact, that’s usually a sign that it is worth it. Look how much invaluable marriage training missionaries have, if only from learning how to get along with a new companion every couple of months-priceless! And those same skills translate into church leadership and workplace management. When we’ve had to exercise patience, creativity, and love, we’ve found a treasure trove of tools that will help us all our lives. And when we enlist Heavenly Father’s help, we tap into the greatest source of strength in the world. We often discover ways we never considered, to make it work. Sometimes we even learn the problem is us, and we need to make changes in order to succeed.
6.Look to the example of the Savior. How much did he really have in common with the rest of us? Here he was, literally perfect. Can you imagine how much effort he had to put into teaching us? Imagine spending your entire life on a planet with only two-year-olds. Make that stubborn, willful two-year-olds. At least that’s how I equate his task-we are so very far behind him you can’t even quantify it. Not until he atoned for our sins and suffered in Gethsemane did he fully understand the suffering we bring upon ourselves, our lack of understanding, the senseless and irresponsible things we do each day, and the pain that results from our sins and foolishness. And yet he never whined about being incompatible with us! He showed us that we can love one another, and work in harmony if we set aside our selfishness and unite in a common goal. He was the ultimate Home Teacher, wasn’t he? And he never expected to have a list of common hobbies with the people he was assigned! It makes our tasks look pretty easy, and our complaining pretty unjustified.
So if you’re ready to throw in the towel because you don’t see eye to eye-whether it’s in your calling, your job, or your marriage-think again.
This relationship might be the very thing you need, to grow in ways Heavenly Father knows you can. It might even become the crowning achievement of your life.
You can find Hilton’s books at jonihilton.com.
She is also “Your YouTube Mom” and shares short videos
that teach easy household tips and life skills
Be sure to read her blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com.
Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.