Honeymoon reblog: This is a post from June 2011.
This was one of the posts during Seth Godin’s “trust30” challenge. I blogged in response to prompts for the challenge, and some of the posts got very deep. The prompt for this one was “What is burning deep inside of you? If you could spread your personal message RIGHT NOW to 1 million people, what would you say?”
Wow, today’s prompt is scarier than yesterday’s topic was. What is my personal message? What truth do I need to broadcast to the world?
Since Trust30 has already hoisted me onto my soapbox about the whole “Attention matters” idea, I probably have one other really strong belief that I live by. One other major thesis that makes up who I am and what I’m about.
All human beings are more alike than we are different from one another
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a good start to this discussion. From infancy, we all need water, food and sleep. To thrive, we also need safety and shelter. After we’ve dined and napped, we need love and belonging. As we grow, sex and intimacy enter into those basic, fundamental needs as well.
Eventually, if we have all of those needs met, we want self-esteem and respect of others, autonomy and recognition as an individual. Ultimately we want to get to the “self-actualization” phase, where we are able to be creative, spontaneous and enjoy new ideas thanks to the fact that we have all or most of our more basic human needs met.
The Buddhist idea is that on the most basic level, we all want freedom from suffering.
Something else we have in common
Now that I’ve got you on board, let me toss out something else we all have in common: individuality.
Think about snowflakes. The amazing thing about snowflakes is that up close, each and every one of them is unique. How often do we see snowfall and look at individual flakes? And how often do we appreciate those teeny tiny differences between them? Not very.
We are all alike in our uniqueness. Up close – inside our own heads, among our close friends and family members – we are wildly unique little snowflakes. En masse – in a classroom, in a cube farm, in traffic – we are all so much human snowfall.
This concept upsets some people. “Why can’t I create something new, vital and different?” For me, it’s comforting. I only have to create something that is authentic. By being true to myself in my snowflakeness, I can add my voice to the global chant. I’m not a solo soprano adding an aria. I know that. I’m an alto adding a tiny bit of harmony. And that’s okay. Imagine any music without a bass line!
Focusing on differences is the cause of most conflicts
Now, let’s think about conflicts.
Let’s start basic and relatively harmless and think about schoolchildren teasing one another. Why do they do this? Because that kid is weird or smelly? No, it is to create “bad guys” and “good guys”. To identify “us” from “them”. This is a very normal stage of childhood development. From about age 4 until around 9 or 10, kids really need those black hats and white hats that cowboys used to wear. Ethan could always tell who the bad guy was because he had red eyes.
While this is necessary for children to learn (don’t talk to strangers!), it is also something they eventually must grow out of. They will sooner or later have to accept the complexity in shades of grey. (Ethan’s growing understanding of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog is a great example of this. The “bad guy” is likable; the “good guy” is a jerk. Who do you root for?)
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend”
I think that as adults, we still find those black hats and those white hats comforting. We make alliances and treaties at work, at play and in politics.
I’m a Browns fan. Every Falcons fan reading this just balked. Every Browns fan reading just confirmed that I’m on “their side”. I will then alienate half of those Browns fans by saying I root for the Braves, not the Indians. I have, with my sports analogy, given myself a grey hat in both camps. This is easy to reconcile for most people. I’m actually *gasp* friends with Steelers fans! Sports team loyalty is a preference, and it’s relatively fluid. Often, people will root for a team they don’t like just to improve their team’s standings in the overall rankings, right?
Does it matter that I’m naturally a brunette? Nope. Why not? Because except in terms of dumb blonde jokes, there is not a coalition of brunettes. None of my redheaded friends are going to reject me because I temporarily dabbled in auburn and chose to go back to my natural brown.
What about differences that aren’t so fluid?
My country, my race, my gender, my religion, my sexual orientation? These are camps that are often used to divide people up into massive groups of “us” and “them” – treaties, coalitions, alliances and enemies.
This starts to speak of stereotypes as well. If I spouted those things about myself – if I laid them all out on the table – every reader would have a stereotype of who I am and what I’m about. They might be wrong about some, and they might be right about some, but it’s all an assumption and a gross generalization based only on the color of hat they assume each of those things that divide or equate us means I wear. People not in all of my camps might take a dislike to me just because of the answer to one of those questions.
Yet these less-fluid divisions of people, these big groups that we join mostly involuntarily and rarely leave, these differences are the cause of most wars, hate-crimes, fear, violence and conflict.
Does it really matter that I’m a woman in the grand scheme of what makes us different and what makes us similar? I still want freedom from suffering.
Focusing on our similarities is the resolution of most conflicts
Peace treaties are formed between warring nations because both sides want to stop killing off their people. They want their children to have a safer, more secure world. They want freedom from suffering.
Compromise is about finding what both parties want and figuring out how to meet in the middle. A win-win is the idea of getting what both parties really want, without need to compromise.
The smelly kid likes the same X-man you do. Suddenly it matters less that he’s smelly, and more that he’s got the coolest action figure you’ve ever seen, and you want to play with him.
It’s human nature to seek for those things that divide us into camps. I prefer not to concentrate on those. I’d rather concentrate on those things that make us all the same.