When you look at the title, it’s entirely possible that your response is “Duh. Of course they are. I knew that.” And, of course, I thought I knew that all along. But, I’ve come to discover that for a long time, although I thought I knew this, I really didn’t know it at all. For a long time, if I thought about the idea that different people are different, under the covers I was thinking something like “Well, I like chocolate and other people like vanilla. But, our fundamental values/desires/dreams/etc are all pretty much the same.” Cognitive scientists have been known to call this the primary fallacy of cognitive science — assuming that everyone else thinks just like I do.
I remember at one point talking to a guy that I sponsored, and he was telling me about a situation in which he almost got into a fight, and explaining the logic and thinking that got him there. I don’t remember the details, exactly, but what I do remember is that according to his values and goals, getting into a fight would have been a perfectly reasonable response to the situation. Further, not getting into a fight would have been a completely inappropriate response to the situation. Given his values and beliefs about the world, getting into a fight was the only reasonable thing to do. It didn’t make the tiniest bit of sense to me, but it made perfect sense to him.
This is what “Different people are different” really means. Other people’s background (which is often different from mine), combined with their goals and values (which are often different from mine) can lead them to think about the world in completely and utterly different ways than I do. In his excellent Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Richard Carlson talks about the idea of being an anthropologist. He’s not suggesting that everyone needs to make a career of it, but rather to take the perspective that different people (and different cultures, sub-cultures, places, etc.) have different sets of values and experiences, and those values and experiences cause them to behave differently in ways that make perfect sense to them. Understanding that different people are different was one of the keys for allowing me to take this perspective.
It’s easy to look at a situation like this and respond with something like “Well, sure. But I’m right and they’re wrong.” While this is easy to do and understandably alluring, it’s also not particularly helpful. One of the things I’ve found to be helpful in maintaining confidence is to remember that, the vast majority of the time, what other people do and think and say is not about me at all. They’re in their own world, thinking their own way, doing their own thing. Remembering this becomes much easier when I can remember that they’re a different person than I am, and that their reality is right for them.
Another common response to this is to say “But, everybody wants to be loved, and safe, and to have fulfilling relationships; doesn’t that mean that everybody is the same?” While it is certainly true that the vast majority of people want these things, the details of what “being loved” and “being safe” and “fulfilling relationship” mean to different people can be very very different. Just as one example, Gary Chapman’s wonderful The 5 Love Languages describes 5 very different ways in which different people can feel loved. Other books have described different numbers of them in different ways, but the point is the same: “Being loved” can mean very very different things to different people.
So, what does all of this have to do with self-confidence anyway? When I can be more understanding of the fact that other people are different, and that they have different goals/backgrounds/beliefs/values/etc., it’s easier for me to similarly be accepting of the fact that I also have different goals/beliefs/etc. My sponsor told me pretty early on that his job was to help me become the best Brendon that I could be. This was deeply profound to me at the time, because I didn’t want to be the best Brendon I could be; I wanted to be the best Steve that I could be, or the best Kevin that I could be, or the best Andrew that I could be.
Steve and Kevin and Andrew (and everyone else, too) have different values and experiences and opinions, and that those are valid and worthwhile for them. As I continue to understand this, I am able to more easily recognize the validity of my own experiences, values and opinions, even when they’re different from everyone else’s. And, recognizing the validity of my own experiences, values and opinions is a great foundation upon which to build self-confidence.