OPINION: Making a world of difference, without judging others

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If you’re buying your lunch from someone, what happens if he’s 20 centimetres shorter than you, Sam Hazledine asks.

Probably nothing, it’s no distraction, nothing to upset you.

What if he’s from another country?

What if his skin is a different colour from yours?

What if he has tattoos?

What if he’s wearing a burka?

What if he uses slang you don’t like?

At some point, most people reach a level of discomfort, when our differences begin to distract us and we fixate on those differences.

Then all we see are the differences.

And we put up barriers, and we judge.

I was recently privileged to get a behind-the-scenes tour of a Crocodylus Park, a crocodile conservation park and farming operation in Darwin, by the founders of the park, Professor Graham and Giovanna Webb.

The way they approach conservation of animals through building sustainable farming was enlightening.

But the thing that struck me the most was the genuine love they have of their work, of people, and of each other.

After he shared a story about an indigenous Australian who he’d worked with, Graham said something very profound to me.

“Sam,” he said, “A life well-lived is about 10 words – tolerance, respect and understanding of all peoples, cultures and traditions.”

As he said that I realised that Graham and Giovanna haven’t achieved what they have just because they are good at what they do.

They have achieved their incredible impact because they approach every person with respect and an appreciation of their uniqueness.

And in doing that they enrol people in their mission.

One example of appreciating differences is that Aborigines don’t have a word for “sorry”.

If they make a mistake they don’t apologise, but they turn up the next day and they don’t hold grudges and they move on.

I never knew this, and it made me realise that I look at people through the lens of my own cultural beliefs – and this might be a huge mistake.

I believe that you can’t influence people when you’re judging them.

Judging others helps you to feel superior over them, it gives you something to moan about with your friends, but it doesn’t achieve change.

Queenstown is a melting pot of so many cultures, both permanent residents and visitors.

We are really embracing of most cultures, I think that’s a strength of ours.

But there’s one area that keeps coming up: tourist drivers.

I get it, when people drive dangerously we all feel threatened.

But I was thinking about this: what if someone grew up in a huge city and had never left it and this was their first time in an environment like ours?

Is it possible they wouldn’t know what to do?

Is it possible they might actually be so nervous they aren’t thinking clearly?

So, what if the next time you saw someone parked on a blind corner to take a photo, instead of cursing them as you drive past, you stopped and gave them the benefit of the doubt and just directed them to a safer spot to stop?

I know you’ll be probably thinking this is a dumb idea as you read it, but my hope is that it festers away in your psyche and next time you have the chance to judge or to have a positive impact, you decide on the latter.

It’s a lot more productive to look for what’s similar and use that to connect.

Sam Hazledine was 2012’s Ernst & Young Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Sir Peter Blake Leader, founder of MedRecruit, and author of Unfair Fight. For more check out www.samhazledine.com