We are wired to look for differences, it comes from the caveman days. The noise that breaks the silence, it might be the tiger ready to pounce on our babies. The man who looks a little different, who has a far away look in his eyes, he might be another kind of predator. The girl who dresses Goth, the guy who votes for another party, the Preacher who uses different God words: we notice things that are different.
Remember the old essay question, “Compare and Contrast?” We are much better at the Contrast part. We are eager to label someone and talk about the differences whether it comes to food choices, politics, religion or any other matter of taste. Compare, if you look it up, means to find the similarities and that takes a little more imagination, a little more intellect. We like what we know. We like what we like.
Suppose we began every single negotiation or discussion with an exhaustive list of everything we have in common? I’m sure we would quickly see that our differences are things that can be worked out because, in comparison, we are all pretty much the same. This week I had to review a book by a fervent theologian, a man who is convinced that only his point of view is the correct one, that only his faith is the one that wins. The book was good for me, I had to respect and honor the man, a very accomplished person in his field, while passionately disagreeing with him. In short, I had to begin with understanding his point of view, to see what we had in common before I could discuss what kept us from agreement. His ego, in my opinion, caused him to deny any possibility that anyone else could see God differently than he could.
Being right isn’t always the most important point, winning isn’t always the best outcome. Sometimes we draw battle lines where we don’t have to and often it is to protect our own ego and hide our own insecurities. I suggested that my theologian was afraid to admit another religion might lead to God because he would then have to change his view and alter his life’s work. I thought of Inspector Javert (Les Miserables) who chose to commit suicide when confronted with the errors in his own beliefs; so powerful was his ego. Evolution isn’t for everybody. It seems to be that we are all pretty close to right, but none of us are completely right. Keeping open to the possibility that someone else might have a point of view that is equally valid to your own is a valuable tool.
Does that equivocate every abhorrent behavior? Does that mean there are still things worth fighting for? In order; no and yes. But, if we choose where to draw our battle lines more carefully, we’ll probably have to draw less of them.
Next time you have to “compare and contrast” focus on the compare part.