Here are some previous thoughts on the subject of Difference. When you have finished on this page, click Back to look at other topics.


A Chinese man has trained his pet dog to walk on its hind legs. Mr Liu, of Wuchang city, says he had the idea while his dog stood up to let him dry the hair on its stomach. It can now manage up to five miles.

There are times in all our lives when we’re expected to behave in ways that don’t naturally suit us. We may be asked to take on a project, live or work in an environment, or work within a set of values, which doesn’t feel right for us.

Sometimes situations like this test our integrity in ways we feel we can’t sustain. We fear we’d be unable to avoid getting sucked in. To preserve our self-respect we have to opt out whatever that costs. But sometimes we choose to accept the challenge. Persevering offers an opportunity to exert some influence for good and occasionally draws out of us qualities and skills we didn’t know we had.

Mr Liu realized he was asking a lot of his dog and so provided him with special shoes. Whatever our response when such difficulties situations confront us, we will need all the support we can get from those who care for us.

Among them is God. The point of the biblical legend about Daniel surviving the lions’ den was to encourage its readers to feel that, however hostile the environment, God would keep safe those who stood firm for their beliefs. If we need such support today we can be sure it’s there.


A city is to be built exclusively for people over 50 who want to escape noisy children. Senior City in south-western Holland will have no schools, while tattoo shops and discos will be banned. Motorbikes will also be outlawed to ensure its 50,000 inhabitants can enjoy peace and quiet.

Most of us have moments of frustration and irritation when we wish everyone in the world was just like us. Sometimes other people’s conduct is thoroughly anti-social and inappropriate. Often though we find it difficult to endure simply because it’s not how we would behave. Tolerating other people’s ways of behaving and accommodating different lifestyles can absorb considerable energy. But it can be energy well spent.

In one of the Old Testament stories which tries to explain why the world is how it is, all people are initially similar and all speak the same language. It is God who decides to create differences between people. The city they had been building to protect their unity is destroyed and becomes known as Babel, from the Hebrew word for confusion.

Perhaps one reason God did this, though this is not the point made by the writers of Genesis, may be that God thought such diversity would increase the quality of human life. It might be worth considering today what benefits and creative stimulation we might receive if we let ourselves make the most of living alongside people who are different from us.


Falling in love can wreak havoc with our testosterone levels. An Italian scientist, Donatella Marazziti, made the discovery after studying 24 people in love. When couples fall in love, she suggests, their testosterone levels alter. It falls in men and rises in women. "It's as if nature wants to eliminate what can be different in men and women, because it's important to survive at this stage," she said. Similarity will make a successful coupling more likely.

Falling in love can wreak havoc with our testosterone levels. An Italian scientist, Donatella Marazziti, made the discovery after studying 24 people in love. When couples fall in love, she suggests, their testosterone levels alter. It falls in men and rises in women. "It's as if nature wants to eliminate what can be different in men and women, because it's important to survive at this stage," she said. Similarity will make a successful coupling more likely.

Many, whichever sex they are, sometimes wish the opposite sex was more comprehensible. The song’s question: ‘Why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ is a cri de coeur which women echo the other way round. That the Creator intended there to be two sexes is part of all the great religions and in the biblical account it is to deal with the first man’s solitariness and isolation that woman is created. As the story continues, there is indeed companionship but also, due in the tradition to the machinations of the snake, confusion between them.

Let’s today delight in the difference we find in the opposite sex. The need to eliminate the disparity may be necessary for new relationships to survive. But for older ones to continue, the challenge of the contrast can be a source of continually renewed energy and delight.


In Kumasi, Ghana’s second city, I was in the section of the market occupied by those who couldn’t afford a stall in the main area. I watched a woman sitting on the ground, the wonderfully red chillis she was selling laid out in front of her, nattering away on her mobile phone. The picture here from Sri Lanka indicates that such things happen all over the world but the incongruity made me smile. And I wondered why she didn’t spend the money that luxury item was costing her (and this was ten years ago when mobiles were too expensive for most people even in this country) on getting a stall, expanding her business, even finding a more interesting way to make a living. Because that is what I would have done.

As Tony Blair nears the end of his time in office, he may look back at what he tried to do for the developing world. But though important words and commitments have emerged from the various meetings he's tried to influence, the fundamental issue between the wealthy and the poorer nations remains. “We”, through our governments, insist that “they” will deal with poverty best by opening up their markets to competition. Support is often conditional on the poorer country, against their own considered judgement, doing it “our” way.

Christian Aid, whose "week" it is, campaigns to change this stance.But they are up against it. That day in Kumasi is not the only time that I have noticed myself puzzled, even irritated, when others don’t appear to see that my way of doing things is best. I don’t suppose I am alone in this. If today, we are able to develop a broader outlook, we shall do ourselves a favour, and be part of a process which, we hope, will one day change the world.


The 28,000 strong Left-Handers Club organises an annual Left-Handers Day. The 87% of the nation who are right-handed will be encouraged to experiment by using their left hands to operate ticket barriers and scissors, to try eating in restaurants without bumping elbows or writing with ink without smudging what they’ve just written.

The value of days like this is that they broaden awareness of the effects of such disadvantages. There are many other such ways in which people find life harder to cope with because of physical difference or appearance, or because of social or economic status.

Jesus picked out such people to be with. Widows, prostitutes, tax-collectors were often his chosen companions. Not, it seems, because he wanted particularly to help them or because they needed special support and encouragement. The impression we get from the accounts of his life was that he just liked their company. As if living outside the mainstream, in one respect or another, gave them a more interesting, perhaps a more rounded, outlook on life.

Most of us have something which makes us different from the majority of those around us. If there’s nothing outwardly obvious, then something about our experience of life or what we believe, can make us feel set apart from others. It might be worth asking ourselves what effect this difference has had on our lives and our outlook. Left-handed players of racquet sports have a distinct advantage when playing a right-hander. Perhaps there are ways in which our experience of being out of the ordinary has given us a valuable and alternative way of looking at life.