“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?