“People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” Linda Ellerbee, award winning American journalist.
I was recently watching a late night 9th anniversary episode of Seinfeld where a portion of the show highlighted in rapid-fire succession numerous personal smears, childish insults, mockeries and criticisms – all humorous mind you. Though that season aired eighteen years ago and it was unqualified comedy, I felt I was watching US presidential politics in 2016. Day after day whether it is viewing political theatre, observing and I dare say participating on social media, invective after invective, antagonism after antagonism, we are at one another’s throat with polarized accusations, intolerant viewpoints and abject disrespect for a dissimilar opinion. Sometimes and tragically this had led to deadly violence.
Is it just me or have you also observed this changing social condition? As I have broadened my horizons, invited those in where otherwise I had built-up walls to keep them out, I am beautifully reminded more each day of our similarities than ever before. We are after all, similarly created. The basic building block of who we all are is our DNA. What is increasingly evident to me at least, is the role played by the social construct that is exacerbating not just racial tensions but so too tensions of opinion. It can also be labeled as a state of separateness. People who one might guesstimate to be “like me” or “like you” are locked in a thought battle of intolerance and anger against us. Or as you may have read from visiting here before, the battle is often within us. Us vs. Us. But that is not for this post.
We often mistake this construct as an inherent difference of background, culture and fundamental belief system. But while many may turn to our existential confrontation with Islamic extremism erroneously reassigned into an anti-immigrant backlash witnessed real time across the globe, we can be as indignant towards the former as against and within our own community and within our family as well. Our children, born of our genetic make-up, with like abilities, temperament and failings can be our fiercest critics yet they are most like us if anyone is. Still the battles rage on.
I choose to believe and act in a manner (as often as possible) that underscores our similarities. I do fundamentally believe that you are very much like me and I am very much like you. I remember a speech given by Angelina Jolie a couple of years ago where she ostensibly opined how if not by the quirk of birth, what really makes us that different.
“We are all, everyone in this room, so fortunate. I have never understood why some people are lucky enough to be born with the chance that I had—with this path in life. And why across the world, there’s a woman just like me with the same abilities and the same desires, the same work ethic and love for her family who would most likely make better films and better speeches. Only she sits in a refuge camp, and she has no voice. She worries about what her children will eat, how to keep them safe, and if they’ll ever return home. I don’t know why this is my life and that’s hers.”
As I re-read that quote by this exceptional person, I am pained by the increasing vitriolic debate on gun laws, Republican vs. Democrat (USA), Conservative vs. Liberal (Canada), refugees and immigrants, and the holier than thou proclamations emanating from the nationalistic, protectionist and isolationist corners of where we live, when it is only by an accident of birth that we are here and they are there, or by lessons learned that I think this way and you the other. What if we spent as much energy on looking for the likenesses between people and not the divisions?
Stuart: I have never being able to make sense of the suggestion that by seeking out what is similar in all of us we somehow transcend what is different. To do so only brings us to the more troubling source of conflict that Freud identified as “the narcissism of small differences.” Ms Jolie seems at a loss explaining a very obvious fact of political and economic reality: human beings may be similar but societies and political systems are not. Her “I want to buy the world a Coke” idealism misses the point entirely. The issue is not ignoring differences that separate human beings from one another but in recognizing the profound differences that separate one system from another. Ultimately it is not an issue of ignoring differences but a question of how to resolve differences. That is a significant but not irresolvable institutional challenge. We cannot wish a global utopia into existence merely by broadening our horizons.
Thanks again for sharing your voice here Jonathan. You know more than most that my comment of broadening my horizons is a loaded one. And for me, that profound journey has worked for me. All I can impact is me and those surrounding me – maybe! I knew that the Jolie quote would find you in disagreement – no surprise there. I feel that by focusing on what is common amongst us, not discounting the differences, perhaps is a way to mending fences and figuring out a better way to share this planet – regardless of where we come from, figuratively or literally.
I hear your frustration, Stuart. Here’s where I take heart and differ from you in understanding of humanity…I believe the macro struggle of our species mirrors the micro struggle within our individuality. There is a constant inner tension pressing us all towards evolution (personally and collectively). Those traits within us that lead to societal divisiveness are informed by the same fear as for personal survival, promoting the need for ongoing physical protection through external power assertion. The same micro-qualities that promote the development of ego/personality (i.e. individuality) until well balanced, drive our collective macro-paradigms of human separation, i.e. religion, nationalism, and other social and political hierarchal structures. The human species will need to reach a critical mass in our collective consciousness through the integration of spiritual self-awareness before we can expect global conditions of peace, mutual respect and harmony to evolve. According to many ancient spiritual traditions there are many signs that this time is approaching. The present state of humanity may represent our last desperate attempts to hold on to past power structures that have taken us thus far. Our reluctance to shift our perception more readily is unfortunate, however I do believe we will evolve into the true compassionate, loving nature of our spiritual reality. Ultimately, we are Spiritual Beings having a human experience!!
I can’t disagree with your assessment of our current state. I also agree that the micro vs. the macro is not well balanced in most of us, and yes “fear” is often the common debilitating factor preventing our ultimate self-actualization. For those that are “ready” to take the leap it is most gratifying.