Underneath We're Not All Alike
For far too long I lived with the general advice, "Underneath we humans are all alike, with a few surface differences." Usually that was said to make us draw back from snide remarks made or angry actions taken toward others different from ourselves.
My five-year teaching assignment in the 1960's in Turkey convinced me that people, down deep, are different. Language, culture and religion combine to produce significant differences that, if unrecognized or unacknowledged, can quickly sour relationships and precipitate conflict.
This shift came about because, anticipating life in Turkey, I armed myself with an open, non-dogmatic attitude and the sure knowledge that I could connect with people underneath the assumed superficial differences. I knew I would adjust well and, after arriving, was quite proud of my rapid assimilation.
The second and subsequent years made me realize what an illusory world I had created for myself. As I grew to know the Turks and their culture better, I frequently found myself startled at deep-seated differences that I, in my first-year naiveté, had not been able to see. I even discovered truly profound and startling differences right up to my departure at the end of five years. (People married for decades often experience that same reality.)
Thus, as a result of that experience, I have attempted to significantly alter my interaction with others. On meeting with another, I do not begin by assuming that the other, no matter how much he or she is similar to me, thinks like me, feels like me or acts like me. I assume basic differences.
With that starting point, I begin the interesting exploration of those differences: what it is that has shaped and currently motivates the other person, and what is the texture of that person's sorrows and delights. Surprisingly, I have found that it is at the point of exploring differences that I then am in contact with the human yearnings of another, and there I find myself touching another.
Assuming similarities produces strangers; beginning with differences
builds connections and community.
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