Kathy Whelan

Posted on November 13, 2018

My husband and I recently took a trip aboard a small cruise ship. We enjoyed beautiful views, fabulous food and wine, and relaxing spa treatments. In retrospect, I realize that the best part was not the scenery, meals or pampering, wonderful though they were. It was something just as important to our health. Something we can bring home.

Having traveled on this ship before, we have become friends with many of the crew. With each trip we take, these friendships deepen. Our crew member friends come from all over the world. They don’t look like us or sound like us. They come from cultures and religious traditions very different from ours. Their day-to-day lives and experiences are nothing like our own.

These friends include fathers and mothers who are away from their families for months on end, year after year. Their favorite times of day are their few minutes on FaceTime with those at home. At all other times, they work, seven days a week, from early morning until late evening, always as a team and always smiling. We feel humbled by their work ethic and their resilience under circumstances we can barely imagine. We love seeing pictures of their families and hearing how they are doing. They ask about our family and keep in touch with our children through social media.

How is it, I've asked myself, that we feel this connection to people with whom we have, on the surface, so little in common? Is it simply because we’re with them in a vacation frame of mind? I doubt it because we think about them and follow their news even when we’re home. Is it because they are not involved in the same socio-political issues we are? Actually, they are involved in their own versions of those issues; understanding this puts our own issues in perspective.

At the heart of these relationships, it seems to me, is the simple realization that we have much in common despite our differences. We share a very basic bond: as fellow humans, we all have hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, ups and downs, the need to connect to others and to love and be loved. And that is enough.

It’s been shown that positive feelings toward others contribute to good health. People with positive relationships live longer, are more likely to survive a heart attack, and are less likely to report depression, develop dementia or have a recurrence of cancer. Relationships that cause stress or anger, on the other hand, can cause health problems.

It sometimes seems hard in our daily lives to connect with and respect others who think differently, live differently or vote differently from us. We are quick to see people as threats or adversaries instead of fellow human beings.

I get that these are trying times with much at stake. But we live in this world together. Even though we may not always agree or like one another, maybe we should dwell a little less on what separates us and more on how we are alike. If I have learned anything from my crew member friends, it’s that people have more in common with one another than meets the eye.

It might be difficult to open our hearts and minds in this way, but I believe it’s worth the effort. Of course, there are a few people we will never be able to relate to, let alone like or care about. As for everyone else, though, I hope you will join me in trying to do a better job of looking at others as if they are, underneath it all, more like us than not. Doing so could not only broaden our minds but improve our health.

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