Finding Commonality

“Blood just looks the same/ when you open the veins.” – Karl Wallinger

From where I sit right now, it feels like a lot of social divisions are widening, many of which are intertwined: rich-poor, Black-White, Republican-Democrat, police-civilians, etc. I just want to step back a little bit to help me remember to maintain perspective. Below is a copy-and-paste from something I wrote before about my daughter (I don’t have much time to reinvent the wheel). The general sentiment is about trying to see commonality first.

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I’ve liked this passage from Matt Ridley’s bookThe Agile Genefor a while:

“Similarity is the shadow of difference. Two things are similar by virtue of their differences from another; or different by one’s similarity to a third. So it is with individuals. A short man is different from a tall man, but two men seem similar if contrasted with a woman. So it is with species. A man and a woman may be very different, but by comparison with a chimpanzee, it is their similarities that strike the eye – the hairless skin, the upright stance, the prominent nose. A chimpanzee, in turn, is similar to a human being when contrasted with a dog; the face, the hands, the 32 teeth, and so on. And a dog is like a person to the extent that both are unlike a fish. Difference is the shadow of similarity.” (p. 7)

These are not groundbreaking observations, just reminders that two things can be alike and dissimilar simultaneously. To me, the important part is to be aware of which we hold at the forefront of our consciousness when thinking of other people. Both are obviously important. When we are born, we hit the ground running and are dropped into circumstances we didn’t choose, which then become part of our identity. You have your ancestors, genes, and traditions; I have mine.

It sometimes takes some effort to see beyond our ascribed circumstances (gender, ethnicity, social class, sexuality, etc.) to see similarity first. But not too much effort. If you can’t see similarity, if you lack any sense that other people can suffer just as you can even if they don’t look or talk exactly like you, then you may be failing as a human being. It doesn’t take much awareness to realize that life is really, really short (but so beautiful). Lives are fragile; life is not. It will go on without us no matter what we accomplish. Why spend it by creating suffering?

Stifling human potential for women, or anyone, through oppression, intimidation, or harassment is a way of creating suffering, which begets more suffering. This isn’t rocket science, but I think my life would be better if it were surrounded by as many happy, fulfilled people as people as possible, not people who feel held back.

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