I’ve recently realized that, even though most of the people I deal with are well beyond their school years, in some ways a lot of people just never advance beyond the mindsets they had from their earliest years. I’m not saying they are immature and reckless as people. Most of them are married, have stable jobs and pay bonds and taxes like any responsible member of modern society does. This is about something that is so ingrained in how we live that hardly anyone seems to notice it.
We’re taught to see difference in things. From a young age we’re given ‘spot the difference’ illustrations to help hone our ability to seek out even the most marginal incongruity and highlight it. Not that we really need tests like these to shape our minds into being more critical of what doesn’t fit in with the rest. It starts from childhood and anyone who’s been around kids or remember their own childhood can attest to this: kids become very disgruntled when they notice one of the group has a sweet that’s bigger than theirs or if the ice cream cone they get served isn’t quite as loaded as the one that the kid before them got. There’s this sense of great injustice that goes along with it, as if you just deprived them of everything they hold dear in some evil scheme to ruin their day. You’d think that this balances out over the years as kids realize the world doesn’t revolve around who gets the biggest portion of sugary delights, but it doesn’t stop the ingrained tendency to seek out and point fingers at things that are not the same. Kids pick on the kid who’s a bit shorter or fatter than the rest. If you had to ask kids why they bully and pick on others, their response would probably be an indeliberate shrug and something along the lines of, “He’s just different than the rest of us.” Ridiculous as it seems when you look at it from this perspective, often times that’s really as far as the reasoning goes with these harmful actions. Of course, it runs far beyond the borders of the school yard. Kids are not fans of any form of difference – including favouritism, in the case of a teacher’s pet or a sibling who did better at the end of a school term. This doesn’t leave people as they grow older, a lot of the time the balanced objectivity to see situations as individual circumstances with their own unique variables, just doesn’t develop in people.
When you dig down deep, the common cause in most of these cases is jealousy…the sense that you are unfairly receiving less than someone else and that you deserve it as much or even more than they do. It’s what causes uprising and dissension in work environments, labour union representatives make their bread and butter by enforcing and managing the rights of workers to be paid fair amounts when they are angered after seeing someone else got paid so much more than they did. Co-workers turn against each other at the drop of a hat if anyone gets wind that one got a bigger bonus or an increase when the rest didn’t quite get similarly rewarded. This very issue of seeing and pointing at what isn’t the same as everything else has been at the heart of some of the biggest issues modern day man has faced and is still facing. From basic human rights laws to equal rights for homosexual partnerships, our constant hammering on how and why one group or person is not being treated the same as the other has turned tides and simultaneously caused moral and ethical storms, dividing people even further as everyone fights to better their own lives. It seems each attempt to seek equality results in even greater rifts, almost as if ten people are pulling on the same sheet for coverage but the sheet isn’t big enough and starts tearing in places, leaving newly exposed areas.
I’m curious why it is that people tend to naturally focus more on the negative, see the differences, talk more about something when it goes wrong than when it works as it should. We throw our toys when we don’t get our way, let’s face it. Most people are not exempt from this, everyone does it sometimes, or used to when they were younger. We gang up without so much as stopping to ask ourselves why we just jump in there and criticise or reject along with the rest. It takes a lot more guts to reach out to help the condemned than to disappear in the sea of conformity. Above all else, I wonder why it is that we don’t focus on all the things that we have in common, instead of what makes us different. Fundamentally we all have the same needs in life, we all respond in the same way when we are hurt or happy. If you’ve ever met someone, a complete stranger, who in passing mentions something that just so happens to be a quirk you have as well, you’ll know how powerful moments like those are. It creates a moment in time where you connect with someone who moments ago was just another face, yet now they make you feel less alone in your views on the world. It’s a moment where you feel you’ve found someone like you. Someone who gets you. And that’s one of the core needs everyone has: a feeling of belonging, being understood and accepted by others.
I’m not going all ‘hug a tree and dance in the moonlight’ here, I swear. It just makes sense that we’d all get along a whole lot better if we sought to focus on our similarities rather than our differences. It’s been said we are born without prejudice. Kids can laugh and play together, with absolutely no consideration of the other’s upbringing, social stature, intelligence or colour. They share a common bond of finding pleasure in something as simple as sticking their hands in mud and enjoying the squishy feeling between their fingers. They sit there and have this honest, unfiltered, undiluted experience of just being alive in a physical body and sharing it with someone else who is doing the same thing.
If we are born mostly blank canvases, it makes sense that we can grow in any direction over the years. This notion that you shouldn’t put ‘stupid ideals’ and ‘false hope’ into kids’ heads is disturbing because everyone’s so quick to dismiss anything outside of the narrow, pretty sad, creek that we’re expected to all fit into in this world, when there’s a whole valley of options beyond that. There’s no reason why positive reinforcement can’t be nurtured in schools and society, teaching our kids to look for what makes us all the same instead of picking on someone who doesn’t quite fit in. More than that, teaching them to ask ‘Why not?’ when someone suggests another person or group doesn’t deserve the same things as them. Teaching them to celebrate the differences in themselves and others as blueprints for unique talents that nobody else can quite master in the same way. And lastly, teaching them not to condemn or shrug off those who seek to see the good, speak about it, write about it, or live it. It’s the fear of our own potential, the ‘what if’ of imagining that we might actually be suppressing a significant, blinding radiance that scares us into denying it.