Towards the end of my body and soul post I threw in a remark about ‘there is no them’ which really needed exploring in more detail. So here we go. I’ll start by talking about why difference is good, then tomorrow will write about when we need to relinquish ideas of difference.
People readily divide up into tribes, families, countries, races, religions and so forth. We define ourselves in terms of the subculture we belong to, the football team we support, or wherever else we pin our sense of identity. Tribes and clans can give us so much, in terms of identity and a sense of belonging. These are important, valuable things. Celebrating difference supports diversity, enables people to find their own ways of being. The last thing I would want is some kind of homogenised gloop of a culture where everyone tries to be the same.
Not only are we different from each other, as individuals, cultures, faith groups etc, but we are also different from other life forms. The world blossoms and flourishes in so many astoundingly different ways. This is a source of beauty and wonder, something to relish. Each unique entity is the consequence of its unique environment and parentage. The sheer scale and variety is astounding, awe inspiring.
In comparing ourselves to others, noting where we are the same and where different, we learn. We may aspire to greater similarity, or seek to widen the distance in response, discovering who we want to be by exploring what makes us unlike those around us. Sometimes it can be a joy to wallow in the similarities we share, but difference is far more dynamic. Difference challenges us to find creative ways forwards, walking paths of compromise and exploration that can prove far more productive than the safety of consensus. New ways of being, thinking and doing emerge from the energies of difference.
A belief in similarity can breed complacency. When we think we know, we don’t always bother. Recognising difference, and that we are all different no matter how alike we sometimes seem, opens the way to paying attention and being respectful. We ask, rather than imagining that we know. The recognition of difference is essential for relationship of any kind. If we imagine that everyone is just like us, and only ever see mirrors of the self, then there can be no deeper connection forged. The desire to explore those differences and understand them – not necessarily seeking to change or be changed, but open to learning, adds to life.
And so I recognise the importance of seeing the unique expression of spirit in every living thing, in every non-living thing, in every place, poem, moment. Hold these thoughts. Tomorrow, I’ll pick up from here to try and make more sense of the idea that there is no ‘them’.