When you first meet someone, what do you first notice?
Do you see ways we are different? Or do you focus on things we share in common?
Earlier in life, I tended to see first the differences between others and myself. With maturity and experience, though, I’ve learned instinctively to look at those things which make us alike. Life is so much better that way. Here’s why:
Advantages of focusing on commonalities
- Collaboration. Instead of thinking win-lose, I am able to begin visualizing partnerships where we can create synergy. Through collaboration, we all come out ahead and are able to create something none of us could have achieved on our own.
- Confidence. When I refrain from needless comparisons, I am able to recognize and celebrate strengths and competencies wherever they are found—in me or in someone else. The non-competitive stance makes me more secure in who I uniquely am, allowing others to feel more confident in their interactions with me.
- Growth. I’m walking along the same “life path” as others, though perhaps we are at different places along the way. Our shared journey creates opportunities where we can learn from each other. We can encourage each other through the difficult times. We can grow together and reach new horizons.
Disadvantages of focusing on differences
- Isolation. The more I focus on the divisions that separate us, the higher the walls become between me and the rest of the world. It would become very lonely to be incarcerated inside those walls.
- Competition. Seeing differences in others prompts us to make value judgments. We constantly evaluate which one of us is better, smarter, richer or stronger. We inevitably compete for superiority.
- Inferiority. When we notice differences first, we operate from a deeper sense of insecurity and inferiority. The more we compare ourselves with others, the more inadequate we tend to feel.
A favorite quote comes from the late Maya Angelou who said, “In minor ways we differ, in major we are alike.”
I choose to focus on the major areas of our shared life experiences. I will also notice and celebrate the minor areas of difference where we are diverse and unique. Those differences, when shared, strengthen everyone.