“Differences challenge assumptions,” the famous author Anne Wilson Schaef once said. As I looked at Chelsea Ann Chalmers, I snorted at the possibility. My assumptions about her, I thought, would never be challenged.
On the surface, we were very similar. We were both of the same age, race and sex. Both of us came from families with fairly comfortable incomes in Johannesburg, we both spoke the same language and we both attended Rhodes University as first year students.
But, as far as I was concerned, Chelsea and I could have been from two different species.
Having observed Chelsea for quite some time, I thought I knew exactly who and what she was, and I was not impressed. “I know your type,” I found myself thinking on more than one occasion, “and I don’t like it.” Her social extroversion and habits created my inability to see the person that she truly was. The culture at Rhodes teemed with ‘people like her’. She fit in beautifully; I was an outcast. She loved people; I felt uncomfortable around them. She enjoyed parties; I would rather cut my own leg off than attend one. She takes pleasure in sport; I find it torturous. It happens so often that we, as human beings, do not feel comfortable when we come across someone who could fit into more than one of the restricting little boxes we have created in which to stuff them. Because I had always regarded myself as liberal-minded and free of judgmental thoughts and ideas, it came as a nasty shock to me when I found that I had created a large number of these little boxes. Not only had I been trapping my acquaintances in these boxes, but my boxes did not even have holes through which they could breathe.
Chelsea is part of the ‘in-crowd’. She is popular, and she taps her feet to the music that blares from the radio. She jumps from one earth-shatteringly fashionable outfit to the next in the space of five minutes. She is invited to all the most exclusive parties as a Rhodes first year, and she attends them. Speaking to Chelsea, I thought, would be a waste of time. It was not. Speaking to Chelsea Ann Chalmers not only surprised me, but it blew all my stereotypically labelled boxes into oblivion.
It turned out that Chelsea and I were more alike than I had ever been able to dream. Human beings, I realised, were human beings not because of, but despite their cultures. Despite being from different cultures, Chelsea and I are both saddened by pain and suffering, and it brings us joy to bring joy to others.
It comes to pass that the most important part of a person is not determined by their habits, their background or their way of life. People share core values, and this makes us human. It is time to break open our boxes, pile them up, burn them down and dance around the flames together.