“I hate stupid people.” I smiled the first time I read that bumper sticker. Finally, someone understood. That sticker gave me permission to label anyone who wasn’t like me as “stupid.” And boy did I meet a lot of stupid people. Stupid people began to show up all around me. They were in front of me on the highway. We shared a seat on a plane ride. They were around me at amusement parks, at the beach, in the mall. Stupid people seemed to be reproducing everywhere. Who were they and where did they come from? How could this world become so littered with stupid people?

It’s easy to hate people. It gives you something to talk about. It provides a platform on which to elevate yourself. People who hate people are actually saying, “I expect the world to revolve around me. Period."

One day I realized my attitude had to change. So I began a quest to really love and appreciate people. And I found every person is unique and of great value. It was easy to appreciate people who are like me, people of similar tastes, talents and tendencies. The more difficult task was learning to love people who are very different than me. In order to grow in this area, I had to move out of my comfort zones.

Below are three simple experiences that helped me to gain a deeper appreciation for the diversity found in people. I challenge you to branch out in some of these areas and dive into the current of a world outside of your comfort zones.

[I TOOK THE BUS]

I sat in the back of a bus that was traveling through a poor area of town. My goal was to merely watch and learn from those around me. I saw a man who looked like he’d lost the game of life. He was beaten, worn out and tired. However, my stereotypes were shattered when he tipped his hat for every lady entering the bus and eventually gave up his seat to another tired soul. Many people caught that bus during the 52 minutes I was in the back, and each one was teeming with their own brand of life. I realized every person is writing their own “living story” and I could learn a lot from them.

Lesson #1 Observe and appreciate the value of people who are different than yourself.

[I TOOK THE SMALL PIECE]

It was Krista’s birthday and I grabbed the last piece of cake. I went back to my table and saw Kevin didn’t get any cake. So, I cut the cake in two and offered half to Kevin. Kevin reached out and took the smaller piece of cake. I said, “Kev, you took the small piece.” He said, “JR, I always take the small piece. It illustrates that you care more about the other person than you do for yourself.” So next time I had the opportunity, I took the small piece. I’m not sure if anyone noticed, but something began to change inside of me. My eyes were opened to the reality that other people’s needs are just as important as mine.

Lesson #2 Put other people’s needs before your own.

[I TOLD THEIR STORY]

As the clouds began to lift in my life and my focus shifted from the “me-god” to the beauty of other people, my conversations began to change. Instead of downgrading other people (in an attempt to elevate myself), I found delight in sharing the stories of others. In fact, with each story I got more and more excited to observe, learn and serve more people. By shifting the focus from “me” to “them” my life was radically changed.

Lesson #3 Share with others the good things you see in those around you.

Three actions, observe, serve and share, changed in my life. They moved me down a road toward truly loving and valuing the diversity of people all around.

I’m still working on each of these three elements on a daily basis. I know when I get them right I’ll begin to catch a glimpse of how God views each of us every day. And all those “stupid people” labels will continue to fall off at an increased rate. And I realize just how valuable every person truly is.

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