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Life, extra large

A sign on a street in Norway promotes "Oslo: Extra Large, a City for All" and it got me thinking. The poster was about the need to reach out to those who are new to the city and culturally different.

Since I've lived in Asia, Europe and South America, I know what it's like to be the alien newcomer, stumbling about, trying to fit in yet often not really belonging. But it doesn't require a move to another country to feel this way. I've certainly also had moments like that in Duluth.

Most of us can relate to a time when we felt awkward, unsure, hesitant, flailing a bit as we feared being different. When we're in a new environment we cling to the hope that someone around us will be aware enough to notice our dis-ease and be willing to reach out.

However, once we feel at home and create a safe and well-ordered life for ourselves, a curious thing happens. We tend to settle in. We form ideas about how things should be and then want to keep things that way. We associate with people who agree with us. Anyone who thinks differently rocks our boat and makes us uncomfortable.

In principle, I want a life that is extra large, one that makes room for many types of people. Not just to tolerate them, but to learn from them and grow. I want to be challenged to release my inner autopilot and think again.

That is, I want this until I am faced with people who have differences that irritate me:

• Such as that church near my house in Ecuador that had an all-night service. The preacher really knew how to use that microphone. Ear plugs were useless.

• Such as that consistently pessimistic friend who enjoys telling me why what I want is impossible.

• Such as that person with an out-of-control pet who thinks the misbehavior is adorable.

• Such as that friend on Facebook who posted daily political rants for the past six months. (Not for my candidate of choice, of course. Otherwise, they would have been wonderfully informative posts.)

• Fill in your own favorite irritation here: _______________

Sigh. We are all one-of-a-kind creations. The fact that we are not all the same keeps the world interesting. Opportunities to be open toward people who are different from us are not hard to find. If we pay attention we can find many chances to stretch ourselves beyond our tidy, but incomplete, worlds.

Tolerance isn't enough. We can go beyond to recognize, accept and celebrate the differences between us. My pessimistic friend brings up key points that help me better prepare to reach my goals. My political Facebook friend posted an apology a few weeks back, realizing he overstepped boundaries and hurt others. If I had de-friended him, I would never have seen his change of heart.

When we divide ourselves we all become smaller. If there ever was a time we needed to live extra large ... it's now.

Arlene Anderson

Arlene J. Anderson is a Twin Ports native turned writer, teacher, traveler and speaker on resilience and leadership. She is currently working on her memoir to be released next summer. She believes there is always more music to play and dancing to do.

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