Finding common ground in a world of differences Print
Youth Column
Written by Karen Osborne, Catholic News Service   
Thursday, May. 29, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

Things would have been really different if I'd been born in 1880, not 1980. In the grand scheme of history, 100 years isn't even close to being a drop in the bucket. When you're talking about a human life, however, 100 years is a long time.

If I had been born in my hometown in 1880, I'd probably have grown up in a farmhouse, not a suburban two-story colonial house. I wouldn't have a car. I would have had a horse and carriage. I wouldn't have access to a computer, a phone, running water, or any of the hundred little conveniences that make modern life so easy. I would get eggs from a chicken, not a supermarket. Since women in 1880 had fewer options, I may not have discovered my love for reading and writing.

One would imagine that any meeting between the two versions of me would include a lot of awkward silences. Or would it?

Even though I'd be wearing jeans and the 1880s version of me would be wearing a bonnet, I think we'd have a lot more in common than originally thought. We'd both value love. We'd both believe in God. We'd both hold our friends and family close to our hearts.

That's why I'm beginning to think that we'd be very good friends.

Right now, the Western world seems to enjoy painting cultures in India, Africa, and the Middle East with the broad brush of "the other." They're "the other" people. They're not like us, we like to say. We dress, eat, and even play sports differently. How could we have anything in common when we look so different, worship different gods and have a different culture?

Quite easily, it turns out.

Underneath the exterior noise in our world telling us that "the other" people are different and weird, we have similar hearts. We try to make our birthdays special. We love our parents and friends. We have music we love and people who drive us crazy. We dance. We gather for dinner in restaurants and homes. We get married. We have homework. We're always trying to get to the next big thing, whether it's a Bentley or a rickshaw. Rich or poor, white or black, Chinese or Colombian, it's all the same.

As a teenager, you'll be pushed out of your comfort zone, whether it's at your first job, at a debate tournament in another city or playing sports at another school. You might feel like you want to stick with your friends and that's natural. We all have an instinctual desire to stick with our "tribe" in unfamiliar circumstances.

That feeling may have been useful in 1880 when the world was smaller and ordinary people like me regularly spent their whole lives less than 75 miles from their birthplace.

Today's world is made up of thousands of different cultures and billions of different dreams, and the only way we can be successful in today's multicultural, multilingual and multireligious world is to cast away the idea of "the other" and understand people as they really are.

You can start small and start soon. Next time you're somewhere new, whether it's your youth group, computer club, or soccer practice, why not try to reach out to someone you wouldn't normally talk to? Ask them what they like to do or about their favorite music. At the very least, you'll make someone feel welcome and happy.

You could meet your next best friend.

Karen Dietlein Osborne contributes to “Coming of Age,” a CNS column series for and about youth. She is a staff writer for the Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y..