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Putting Differences to Work

rainbow over a green field
Photo by Alain d’Alché on Unsplash

I once took a class on the meaning of color and found it fascinating. I was intrigued by how each color can have different meanings and how those meanings change from culture to culture. Orange indicates abundance, but it can also mean caution. Black is sophisticated and yet it can be heavy and oppressive. The color for royalty in the West is purple, but in China, the emperor’s color is yellow. So many layers and varieties of meanings.

A few weeks later, I was outside when the sun broke through the clouds and a rainbow appeared. As I gazed at the shimmering colors, I realized this rainbow is formed by billions of raindrops refracting the light—every single raindrop contains the entire rainbow within it.

We are like these raindrops. Each one of us contains all of these qualities: intelligence, precision, nobility, happiness, growth and renewal, peace, energy, abundance. We just have them in different proportions. Some of us are really good at analytical thinking. Some of us are really good at connecting with people. Some of us focus on seeking deeper spiritual meanings.

It’s so easy to get frustrated with people who think differently than ourselves. But the truth is, we all have all of these qualities, even if some are in tiny amounts. And when we learn to value these qualities in each other, we start to see how they all work together… Together we form a complete rainbow.

Let me give you an example. My sister loves math. She’s a whiz with numbers. Excel spreadsheets are among her favorite tools. And she loves order. She finds immense satisfaction in finding a place for everything. She not only finds the right box, she makes it look pretty too.

I’m not this way. My world is the world of words and ideas. I’m fascinated with stories. I don’t like to take the time to put things away because… “Oh! I just had an idea! Quick, where’s a pen—I’ve got to capture this before it disappears!” And then I end up with piles of paper scraps everywhere (along with piles of all the things I haven’t yet put away).

You can imagine there was a bit of tension between us growing up, sharing a bedroom. My sister threatened to paint a line down the center of the room to contain my mess to my half. And I got frustrated with everything having to be exactly in its place.

Believe it or not, we actually went into business together as adults. And we quickly learned to put our diversity to work. My sister was the numbers person, so she managed the books and the inventory (we imported rayon batik fabrics from Bali). Our little warehouse was the neatest, most organized place you could imagine. Every bolt of fabric had its place and was clearly labeled. Filling orders was so much easier!

I worked on the designs and the marketing. It was a lot of fun to work with the artists to create beautiful fabrics. I was also in charge of creating the website and telling our story.

When we traveled to Bali to work with the factory, our diversity had an added bonus. My sister mastered the Balinese money immediately, while I still fumbled making change. But I had an ear for languages. So when we hailed taxi, I gave the driver directions and Meg paid him once we arrived.

Both of us were relieved not to have to worry about the thing we weren’t good at and focus on the things that came easily for us. Oh, we still tangled with one another occasionally—usually when we tried to make the other person more like ourselves. But we’d quickly snap out of it because it was our differences that were our strength… as long as we used them together in unity. Together, we formed a whole.

Epilogue: To finish the story… We successfully created and sold a line of rayon batik fabrics to fabric stores and designers here in the U.S. and Canada. We eventually discovered that, while those who love rayon batiks really love them, there weren’t enough of them to keep the business going. So we ended up shutting it down.

The intensity of that time working and learning together has brought us much closer than either of us could have imagined. It was an incredibly valuable experience.

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