by: Bucky Broadrick, PharmD, LAPC
Over the past several nights I have turned on the television and been awed by the spectacular views and amazing athletes competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The highflying, acrobatic displays by Americans Jamie Anderson and Sage Kotsenburg in slope style snowboarding coupled with the 80 mile per hour men’s downhill skiing are athletic exhibitions that push the limits of human performance. The central focus of the Olympic games should be on these athletes who have reached the pinnacle of their respective sport, but historically the Olympics are often a platform to highlight the cultural, political, and ideological differences that exist between the host nation and countries around the world. This year is no exception. With Russia being the host nation, Olympic broadcast commentators have repeatedly discussed the relationship between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama or Russia’s recent law banning all gay propaganda. The differences that exist between nations on a world stage illuminate on a macro level what often transpires on a micro level in human relationships. When people see others as different they create division and concentrate on the fear of not knowing versus seeking to discover what they may have in common. Sometimes the most difficult task is to see beyond a limited perspective and consider the perspective of another (especially when our perspective is ‘so right’). Perhaps the viewpoint that is the most difficult is to see others as merely ordinary and to not see others as extra-ordinary and as spectacular as the “1620 Japan Mute Air Grab” that Kotsenburg landed on his final jump to secure Olympic Gold. C.S. Lewis said it this way, “ There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”
It is easy to give praise and honor to Olympic athletes and see them as almost immortal, but how is it possible to maintain this perspective in relationships that dominate most realities? More importantly, how is it possible to maintain this high view of others when they do not share the same tastes and preferences? To answer these questions I am reminded of a member of our own community who was always able to see others as possessing intrinsic value regardless of their background or affiliation. Leslie Starr embodied what it meant to accept others and she taught many this important lesson, including me.
I grew up in the same neighborhood as the Starr family. Just a short walk from my house over ‘the creek’ placed me at their front door. When I was not in school or away on vacation, I was usually at the Starr home tossing baseball or shooting hoops with the Starr boys. During those childhood years, Leslie treated me like one of her own sons and always celebrated my accomplishments.
Fast forward to my junior year of college. As I was considering my plans for summer vacation I decided to spend several months abroad in Russia on a mission trip. The purpose of the mission trip was to build relationships and share the good news of Jesus with Russian college students. In preparation, I sent out letters asking friends for prayers and monetary support to help fund my trip. I sent one of those letters to Leslie, explaining how I had decided to spend my summer and asked for her support. One weekend I returned home from school to follow-up on some of those letters and Leslie walked over to my parent’s house and wanted to sit down with me to discuss my summer plans. I will never forget that meeting with Leslie.
First, she handed me a check that funded a large portion of my expenses for the summer. Next she began to question my intentions for going to Russia. Leslie’s questioning was not in opposition to the Great Commission to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, but she was concerned with how I saw myself in relation to the Russian college students that I was yet to meet. Her biggest concern was that I saw my worship and myself as ‘better than’ or ‘superior’ to the Orthodoxy that has existed in Eastern Europe and Russia for centuries. “Just because their approach to worship is different does not mean it is wrong,” she explained. Lastly, Leslie challenged me to approach my trip with an open-mind and from a posture of serving others. As I ended my meeting with Leslie that day I did not understand why she was so concerned about how I approached others, but I could not question her support and love of me. I assured her that I would take her approach regarding others with me to Russia.
It has been over ten years since that summer spent in Russia and I still communicate, disagree, and share stories with Sergey. Sergey is a student that I met during that trip. My approach in building a lifelong friendship with Sergey is to accept and love him no matter how much we disagree or see things differently. Based on my life-long relationship with Sergey, I believe there are several conclusions that I can draw from my conversation with Leslie that can be applied to relationships, especially when it comes to accepting others that are different.
1. Feel our Feelings. This is something that is most basic across all human relationships. Humans emerge into this world experiencing the world through feelings and this does not change throughout the lifespan (although adults often find creative ways to hide their feelings). When beginning an approach toward others with feelings it gives others a chance to respond to that which is most human and opens the conversation for others to share how they might be feeling as well. In my conversation with Leslie I knew exactly how she felt and how passionate she was in her approach toward others.
2. Tell the Truth…in Love. From the beginning of my conversation with Leslie I never doubted her love for me. Before sharing her opinions she fully supported me and then she encouraged and guided me into a greater truth of approaching others. In Man’s Search for Meaning (2006) Victor Frankl wrote, “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”
3. Give it to God. This final point may be confusing, but I believe it is about letting go of control. In Alcoholics Anonymous the first two steps of the 12-Steps program are admitting powerlessness over the addiction and for the addict to believe that there is a power greater than their self that can restore sanity. Both of these steps involve surrender and surrender must happen for the relational aspects of the addiction to work toward healing. In attempting to manipulate or dictate how others might respond in relationships others sense a need for control and respond with resistance and fear. By allowing mystery and trusting the process of relationships others are invited to respond with openness and vulnerability. Leslie confronted me, but she also did not dictate how I should respond. She then gave me her blessing and allowed me to go to the ends of the earth to take her lesson.
In an interview following the amazing “1620 Japan Mute Air Grab” jump that secured Olympic gold for Sage Kotsenburg in slopestyle snowboarding, Sage said, “I’d never even tried it before, literally, Never ever tried it before in my life.” Maybe Sage’s example of ‘going big’ and taking a risk could be applied to relationships as well. Leslie certainly was bold enough to take a risk with me and I still remember her lesson today. In fact, I believe her approach to others is something I aspire to bring with me into all my relationships, whether it is those that are closest to me or those that take me to the ends of the earth.
 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory. Preached originally as a sermon in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1942.
 This model of relationship was originally presented to me in a workshop on leadership conducted by Chip Dodd in 2007. Check out more of Chip’s material at www.chipdodd.com (2014)
 For follow up reading on accepting others that are different I would suggest Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Women Who Bound Them Together (2008) by Ron Hall and Denver Moore