uniqueness and things in common


drawing by lynn

How wonderful that we are not all the same, and that we can still understand each other so often.

It seems normal to assume that the person I am talking to, or trying to understand, is basically like me.  And of course we do have a lot in common.  But this sense of our commonalities gets in the way if I do not step back, again and again, and consider our differences. People have different genetics that even shape things like our physical responses to stress. We each have had different life experiences that influence our responses to events and people and culture. Each person I encounter, from those I am close to, to new people I meet, is different from me, even though we have things in common.

I continue to be amazed at how different we all are. Without attention to our commonalities, medical and social science could not make discoveries, and art could not speak widely. But we all need to fully recognize our individual differences again and again, in order to make progress in understanding—understanding generally about the world, and practical understanding that helps us to relate to others in our ordinary lives. When I developed the 16 questions of the DSES scale of ordinary spiritual experiences I interviewed many many people of various ages, cultures, beliefs, genders, and ethnicities.  And when asked to describe their experiences, each person’s responses were different. The 16 questions group those experiences, and help people see connections with others. That commonality is so important, but recognition that the other person’s experience is valid, and different in some way from my own is essential too.  It is challenging to keep both in mind in our days.