Today brings us to the sixth competency of healthy families: Differences between people are encouraged.
Remember the Arby’s slogan in the 1980s? “Different is good.” Arby’s was claiming that their meat was of a higher quality and quantity than competing fast food restaurants. Competition thrives on differences, because competitors can capitalize on the differences.
In a family system, competition doesn’t work so well, so it’s much trickier to encourage differences. In fact, it may seem counter-intuitive. How can everyone be different and still contribute to a unified team? Families often make the mistake of squashing differences so as to create (an illusion of) unification, and no wonder: It takes extra work to encourage differences as a means to unification.
Differences Can Increase the Strength of the Whole
Yes, that’s right. Differences can increase unification, and families who practice this reality are stronger in that they’re more flexible–they have greater capacity to think outside conventional boxes, and this gives them an advantage within and beyond their ranks.
It takes creativity to identify the unique strengths of each individual on the family team, and to encourage them to contribute what they have to the group. Parents who are intentional in the search for a child’s natural capacity don’t have to look hard. When children are able to explore naturally, with age-appropriate boundaries and structure, and they’re given opportunities to experience a variety of interests, they naturally gravitate to those things that compel them. Healthy families encourage the child to develop those natural interests to their fullest capacity, and they help them use those abilities to further the family team.
Differences Between Partners
Parents often find encouraging differences in their children easier than encouraging differences between themselves–the captains of the team. However, differences between partners can also be leveraged to the advantage of the whole. When partners find themselves divided on core values–like justice vs. mercy, conservation vs. generosity, etc.–these matters can become either bitter battles or constructive conversations. Respecting the other as someone who is truly “other,” valuing them for their differences–not in spite of them, but because of them–is an attitude that healthy families cultivate intentionally.
It Takes Intentionality
And it does take intentionality. Valuing differences, seeking them out as resources, is counter-intuitive and can feel risky. But in an atmosphere of respect and differentiation, differences are enjoyed and embraced as a strengthening force for the team.
How could your family identify and support the development of the differences represented within it? How could you leverage those differences to make a stronger team? Maybe it’s time you capitalized on your differences!