By Martha Price
“We need to need people who are not like us.”
As I wake in the morning or move about the day, National Public Radio (NPR) is often on in the background. I have no recollection of the context of these words and cannot provide attribution, but they cut through the “blah blah blah” and lit up my brain as a lightning strike.
What does needing to need people who are not like us mean?
It seems we are living in a world of polarity unlike any time in our collective memory. It is human nature to separate ourselves from people who are different from us, but the chasm between ‘sides’ seems to be deepening and broadening. People break off friendships, quit jobs, get fired, and end marriages because of polarized views. We lose sleep. We suffer real distress. We prune our Facebook pages to avoid exposing ourselves to other views and to online arguments. Friends have admitted to me firsthand, “Why should I listen to that? They’re just stupid.” It doesn’t seem possible to get along with the people who are not like us, let alone entertain the possibility of needing them.
How often we hear that we need to expose ourselves to the differences that we are immersed in every day. “Get to know them.” “Maybe you’ll learn something.” “Ask questions.” “Listen.” “Get past it.”
But what does it mean to need people who are not like us? I try to imagine what it feels like to need them. I don’t know how to need them. Do I need them to need me back? Getting to know “others” satisfies a deep curiosity in me, but is it only a sport? Is it different from needing them? Am I missing something important by not needing to need them?
Rilke said, “And the point is to live everything, live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” (From Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke)
I am living this question – what does it mean to need to need people who are not like us? May the answer come in a not-too-distant day.