Similarities and differences

The key feature shaping human societies all around the globe is the diversity of those individuals that constitute them. There will be no two identical persons – not ever, not even identical twins can truly be called “identical”, because they are constantly shaped by different experiences. It is our life that shapes who we are, how we think and feel. And since we all live through different events, we all end up being a unique person. We contribute our very own desires and wishes, our individual standpoints, we leave an imprint on those around us, and thus we can move society forwards. This way, we benefit from differences. Yet societies are not held together by varying, but by connecting features – by those things shared among the individuals, be it a shared personal history, a similar opinion on certain topics or values upheld jointly.

As human beings, we need to acknowledge that we are all different. Appreciating these differences, be they in food preferences, in clothing style, in political standpoint or religiosity, we can provide a framework that permits every human to thrive and develop their character freely. Only by remembering that nobody is like ourselves can we stop ourselves from trying to install our ideas in others and limiting their own development.

Living together requires accepting the differences defining the individual and embracing them as key towards solving whatever situations we encounter: one viewpoint may find a way to cope with what we face, two can add to one another and push each other onwards – furthering understanding, allowing to resolve conflict and develop something new out of the existing.

Yet in my eyes, valuing the similarities uniting us is as important as focusing on the differences that enrich us; indeed, I regard focusing only on the differences as entirely pointless without emphasizing that there is something establishing a bond between us, constituting us as individuals within a society, not detached from those around us. By seeing that we share ideas, values, and preferences, we maintain a connection to those around us, lay the basis for understanding. Great differences may actually provide an excellent basis for establishing a connection out of the dividing, only on a more subliminal but all the more important level. By being confronted with differing consequences drawn from the same issues faced, we are required to deal with what causes these differences – what do we see that others don’t? What are our interests, and why do others’ deviate? Why do I emphasize one thing and someone else something completely different? – and see that others are concerned with the same things as we are, only that they have a different approach leading to a different outcome. Respecting this is the indispensable groundwork for coming together to unite differing views and establishing a common path.

Seeing what is currently happening in our world makes it all the more obvious for me that noticing differences results in division without keeping an open eye on the similarities. In Myanmar, the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group in a primarily Buddhist region, are persecuted for their religion, even though Muslims and Buddhists have lived together for generations; in several European Union states as well as in the USA, nationalist movements gain impetus, defining citizens of one country as more important than those of others – regardless of long-standing cultural ties and exchanges and ever-deepening international connections; in Columbia, peace-making with the FARC rebels is expected to be highly difficult because during the centuries of civil war the basis for understanding, the awareness of the shared cultural background, has been eroded.

In all these cases, differences are emphasized – only that they are over-emphasized, given solely defining importance over the less obvious connecting mutualities.

Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar have been in conflict for generations, but only because they defined themselves over what separated them instead of seeing that they both uphold caring for one another and respecting the individual. In the EU and the US people feel detached from political leaders and decision-makers, they believe they are disregarded and unable to determine their own lives – but instead of coming together and bethinking that peace, freedom and independence is the basis the peoples came together on and that can be preserved and built on together. In Columbia, visions for the country’s future differ – but both rebels and government are striving to ensure the well-being of their people, the potential groundwork for exchanging views and developing new ideas on behalf of the people.

Similarities and differences are symbiotic, one without the others is nearly useless: differences without a view for the uniting features divides, similarities without existing and appreciated variation means stagnation and monotony.

If we appreciate the differences defining us as human individuals without allowing them to separate us and constantly reminding ourselves that, even in conflict we all have reasons for holding our opinions that deserve to be appreciated and considered, we can grow together and jointly overcome divisions and problems and find a way out of seemingly dead ends.

Maybe I do not see the right way yet, maybe you are locked up and see no way out. But if we help each other, we can discover a new path leading onwards.


Editorial: The concept of values