Different, not deviant

Nov 2018    

Of late, diversity has been a buzzword and is often seen as desirable.

We see diversity in families too.  Within a family, there might be grandparents who belong to the Pioneer Generation, parents who are Baby Boomers, and children who are Generation X or Y. Some family members might be more westernised in world view or values, while others are more Asian. Some may prefer listening to Canto-pop and others to K-pop music.

Diversity in age, values and preferences can enrich family life.  Sometimes, it causes confusion and conflict.

Having worked with families for over three decades, I have observed that each generation seems to think that their lives while growing up were harder than their children’s are. Moreover, the older generations tend to believe that they are tougher than their offspring. For instance, there are parents of six or more children who cannot understand why their children struggle with their two, particularly when the latter have time-saving appliances, superior public infrastructure, and other modern conveniences.

In spite of all that the Pioneer Generation lacked, many look back wistfully on carefree days in their kampongs, which they would not trade for today’s high-rise living. They see the younger generations under extreme stress from academic and career pressures. In my parents’ time, access to education was a privilege. For my generation, it was about doing well enough to get into pre-university and later, the local university. I obtained more points in my ‘O’ Level aggregate score than I have fingers.  Yet, I was overjoyed to qualify for pre-university.

Such sentiments illustrate how individual perspectives are personal and may not be shared by others. Diversity may thus be based on objective facts and subjective perception. Also subjective is the meaning we make of differences, which can either provide opportunities for growth or lead to more conflicts within a family.

How then can we celebrate diversity and minimise conflict?

Rather than viewing differences as signs of rebellion or declarations of conflict, one could take them as just that—differences. Your perspectives on work or relationships may differ from your children’s, but it does not mean they are wrong or deviant. Recognise that, in our younger days, we too were convinced about the rightness of our causes. You might have grudgingly complied when overruled by your parents. But even then, would you not have liked them to hear you out?

So, seek to understand the differences by listening with the intention to understand, rather than to rebut. When counselling conflictual clients, I realise that they may disagree about inconsequential points but not on the issues or values that these represent. Listening well can help us appreciate one another better.

Do remember: different does not mean deviant.

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

Picture by maxxyustas/Bigstock.com


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