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Respecting Diversity: 3 Qualities Your Young Adult Needs

Your kid will interact with many different people throughout their life. After high school when they move, or go to college, or start working, they will be meeting and forming relationships with people of different ages, races, ethnicities, genders, and more.

Many will have different ideologies, religions, and perspectives, some of which your kid may have never been exposed to before. It is important, no matter how different someone is, that your young adult can communicate with and respect all walks of life. Here are three qualities to emphasize:

Empathy

Empathy is the ability to recognize and respect the feelings of others. It also involves listening carefully when others speak and responding to their needs with care and concern.

Image: Diverse group of young adults
"It’s important to step back and see the big picture. As we get older, we have to think beyond our own perspective." Getty Images

Part of empathy is recognizing that people have different perspectives than one’s own. Licensed mental health counselor Janine Halloran likes to use a metaphor of blind men and an elephant to explain empathy. One blind man grabs the trunk, the other touches the side, another holds the tail. They all are touching the same creature — an elephant — but they all have different perspectives on what it is they are feeling. “Everybody has their hand on part of the elephant, and they are convinced their way is the only way to see the elephant,” Halloran says. “But really, everybody misses the point. It’s important to step back and see the big picture. As we get older, we have to think beyond our own perspective.” While challenging to do, Halloran says this means recognizing that your perspective can be both right and wrong at the same time; an important point for kids as well as adults.

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Young adults will have to learn to deal with different personalities in the workplace and in life. Research suggests that those with a strong sense of empathy have better social interactions and tend to be more successful in school and in the workplace. Educational psychologist Dr. Michele Borba says if young adults can understand where others are coming from, they will be better-prepared to deal with diverse personalities and ideas.

Halloran says the first step is actually looking inward and recognizing one’s own uniqueness. “We all have to think of ourselves as unique.

It is unhelpful to pigeonhole people based on one characteristic,” Halloran says. “Think about yourself; you know there are a lot of different things about you. There are a lot of experiences you’ve had and others have and haven’t had. It’s important to remember that everyone goes through that.” And for you, it’s important to understand where your kid is coming from, too. Respect them for how they are different from you and that will be the first step in setting an example for how they interact with others in the world. There is plenty of wisdom you can offer, but first, you must hear what they have to say.

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Compassion

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” It is the feeling of concern and sympathy for others’ suffering or challenges, and the motivation to relieve that suffering.

“Compassion is empathy in action,” Borba says. This can be as simple as trying to make someone’s day a little better by doing something kind, like holding a door open, or doing extended work like volunteering or service projects. When young adults have compassion, they are able to show others that they understand and respect their differences through their actions.

By finding ways to connect with others, no matter how different they are, young adults build their compassion skills. “Just because somebody looks different than you, it doesn’t mean they’ve had a very different life than you,” Halloran says. Young adults should try to keep in mind that all people go through some kind of challenge. Talk with your young adult about a stereotype related to your family or background. You can also use this as an opportunity to discuss how diversity enhances our world, and how being compassionate and respecting others can help them learn more about the world.

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