I believe there are more similarities between people than there are differences.
Many years ago I was an exchange student in former East Germany. It was May 1st and I was in a small town in southern East Germany. No one at the time could have known this would be the last May 1st for East Germany – the Wall came down later that year.
After the standard parades and speeches, I found myself with three grade school children. I figured this would be a great opportunity to find out what “good little Socialists” these kids would be.
So I asked them, “What does this day mean to you?”
“We don’t have to go to school!” they all gleefully shouted.
“Kids are the same the world over”, I thought.
We had a great time talking and I still smile when I look at the pictures I took of them 20 years ago.
That year and many others I have had the opportunity to travel to and live in many countries and meet many people. What has repeatedly struck me is that despite differences in culture, language, religion, and so on, there are more things similar between people than there are differences:
Everybody wants their children to have a better life.
Everyone wants to live in peace and prosperity.
Everyone understands the pain of losing a loved one.
I’ve often wondered why we tend to focus on the differences. This tendency has led to so many intractable conflicts around the world and throughout history. I believe our brains tend to categorize things by looking at the differences. Even Sesame Street had the little song “one of these things is not like the other ones…one of these things just doesn’t belong….” After millennia of exercising this difference-seeking muscle, the corresponding similarity-seeking muscle I believe has atrophied.
But that muscle still exists and it can and should be strengthened. It takes work and discipline, though. I have tried to avoid falling into the “you wouldn’t understand” excuse and instead have looked for commonalities to improve understanding and rapport. I believe the world would be much improved if everyone looked for similarities rather than simply following the easier and automatic task of focusing on differences.