OBJECTION TO DIFFERENCE – Self-absorption leads to polarization – two people lacking attunement to one another. Being convinced by our own self-absorption that our way of seeing the world is the only way, we see others’ different approaches to life as dangerous, and we object to them almost instinctively. Objection to difference is the fundamental human problem, fueled by anxiety and rooted in self-absorption. When we fear each other, connecting is impossible.
It’s easy to see how the objection to difference could cause polarization. If we each insist that my way is the right way, and your way is unacceptable, we are pretty much at a stand-still.
Like the irony of wanting to connect but pushing people away, the objection to difference really doesn’t hold up under healthy scrutiny. The fact is that all of nature, everything on the planet, is a function of difference. If not for different chromosomes, how would a human being be formed? We all know that no two snowflakes are alike and that every single leaf on a tree is just slightly different from all the others. Difference is the backbone of creation – two or more different things coming together to form a new thing.
So why are we so opposed to differences between us? There are many theories out there, but essentially, they boil down to us perceiving another’s differentness as a threat to our way of life. Our ancient ancestors survived by being fearful of different groups of people who were competing for the same resources – shelter from the elements or the same animals to hunt. By aligning ourselves in community with those who shared our way of being, we were better able to survive the rigors of ancient life. That primitive instinct lives on in our lower brains – the part that’s responsible for involuntary responses like breathing, pumping blood, and recognizing danger.
Today we don’t need to defend our patch of land or out-hunt someone for our dinner, but our lower brains can’t make the distinction between REAL danger and PERCEIVED danger. While our lower brain sounds the alarm at the slightest hint of danger – i.e. someone disagreeing with us about where to go to dinner – our upper brain is able to understand that’s not really a threat, and we simply handle the situation. However, some present-day conversations are still so scary that our lower brain takes over and our upper brain gets temporarily shut out – i.e. our boss yelling at us in front of our colleagues, or our partner getting angry over the finances.
In these moments, the differences between us truly seem life-threatening. If we haven’t learned to accept that others are naturally different from us and that’s OK, then we constantly struggle with either trying to convince them to see things our way or completely giving up our point of view for the sake of peace. Neither is the healthiest solution. If we accept that there are differences between us, then we can be objective and peaceful about the way we address those differences, rather than getting sucked into the never-ending cycle of conflict over who is right. The old inquiry, “would you rather be happy, or right?” is a valid question. Who’s right is not the point. The point is to be able to accept each other as individuals so that we can work together beyond our differences to solve whatever is in front of us.
Next, we’ll take a look at how our objection to difference hinders the development of empathy, which is the cornerstone of true connection.