“We are more united and have far more in common with each other, than things that which divides us.”
These words were spoken by UK MP Jo Cox in her maiden speech to Parliament in 2015. One year later she was murdered and her words went viral.
From the other end of spectrum consider the delusional and divisive comments of the President of the US on the night of 2020 Presidential election trashing the US electoral system in the eyes of the world.
We are currently living in troubled times where:
- Experts are denigrated and ignorance, bias and prejudice is celebrated;
- Intelligent discussion and agreement to disagree and respect for other shades of opinion are denied in the current cancel culture;
- Public debate is hijacked and taken over by group think and mob rule.
- Woke thinking takes precedence over reasoned debate;
- Virtue signally takes precedence over private philanthropy.
And yet most of the time, in most circumstances, people are the same.
# More In Common And The Narcissism of Minor Differences
So why is there so much antipathy and hostility between people who are in many ways quite similar?
We seem to take our common humanity for granted and instead obsess over subtle divergences in culture, character and points of view as if they are the end of the world.
Freud called this phenomenon “the narcissism of the slight difference.”
He argued-long before we understood what cognitive biases were-that the small differences between us are magnified in our minds and thus drown out our similarities.
According to Freud the reason for this is the desire for distinct identity. Thus if we can identify and magnify small points of difference these become differentiators.
Thus the more we realise how much we have in common with other people the ego resists the feeling that we are not that special after all.
To protect our sense of self and keep this dissonance at bay, the ego constantly seeks to construct and reinforce its identity by artificially inflating the significance of these small differences.
Add social media to the mix and the narcissism of the slight difference is subject to a major multiplier effect. So given that our minds are programmed by our egos to disparage similarities and amplify slight differences the internet gives us endless more small differences to spot and react to.
# Similarities Between Groups of People Are Large and Important
I recently read an important piece of research that, unlike most studies which focus on differences, took a very large dataset and calculated the similarities between populations.
The study took a large international survey of 86,272 people and categorized them by age, gender, education, nationality, education, and religion.
The survey asked them all questions to gauge their values around 22 different topics (trust in science, the importance of education, morality, etc.)
The researchers then cross-analyzed the data in every way they could to determine which groups of people around the world are the most similar and dissimilar.
In all, they ran over 168,000 comparisons and found that, on average, people’s values were 93.3% the same.
Of all of the comparisons, only 0.66% of them produced results where populations were more dissimilar in their values than they were similar
# A Personal Perspective
My view is quite simple:
Why don’t we focus on that which we want in a positive way and drop the negativity bias?
A focus on difference is a focus on negativity and its effect is to divide.
A focus on common interest is holistic and its effect is to unite
What you focus on grows.
A focus on difference magnifies division.
A focus on common interest magnifies unity
So my question to all those who are championing any cause or point of view is this: Are you focused on the positives, on what you DO want to happen and thus on unity?
Or, are you focused on the negative, on what you DON’T want to see happen and thus on division?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the activist group “Black Lives Matter” focusing on what they do want rather than what they don’t want?
So rather than focusing on instances of white police officers behaving badly towards black suspects they focused on what they do want which is instances where white police officers act with civility and decency to black suspects?
Imagine a video going viral showing a white police officer behaving in a kindly, helpful and supportive way towards a black person?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the “Me Too” movement celebrated the lives and actions of prominent male producers who have acted with kindness and decency and shown courteous support to actresses?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the leading protagonists of the various causes espoused by “wokeness” focused on the positive examples of people and organisations who do behave in alignment with the causes they espouse.
In my view the fastest and most effective way to realise that we have more in common is to ensure that:
- Your point of focus is positive
- Your point of focus is on uniting people.
Further reading and resources on more in common