Yue Minjun – Great Joy [1993-94] Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without.”
William Sloane Coffin
- A World Of Sameness.
Imagine a world that is all the same. Everyone looks alike, all the buildings are the same, every tree, flower and bush is exactly identical, down to the smallest detail.
Everyone speaks the same language, has the same ideas, thoughts, opinions.
This is a dystopian world, a surrealistic world, where difference was banned by law long ago and everyone agrees that sameness is all that matters.
René Magritte – Month of the Harvest  Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“How boring would this world be if everyone was the same?”
In this imaginary sphere, difference and diversity are regarded as criminal and unacceptable.
Let your mind wander for a moment into this science-fiction, horror-movie world.
Marilyn Diptych – Andy Warhol. Wikioo.
In reality, this nightmarish scenario would be an impossibility, but it is worth ‘playing’ with the idea, a fantasy of the extreme, in order to appraise, measure and reevaluate the ways of thinking that we have adopted.
- The Same Old Ways Of Thinking……
For example, those who think in rigid, controlling ways, who cannot tolerate diversity, will tend to want a relatively unchanging world.
The formulaic nature of such ways of thinking leads to an immovability, a manner of asserting one’s views that tolerates no contradiction, no possibilities, no choice.
“The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”
In a world of people who all think alike, that is, rigidly and inflexibly, there would indeed be no contradiction, no disagreement, no challenge, no innovation and certainly a lack of creativity.
“Usually when we hear or read something new, we just compare it to our own ideas. If it is the same, we accept it and say that it is correct. If it is not, we say it is incorrect. In either case, we learn nothing.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
Often, those who routinely adopt a black and white approach to life have not been able to trust their own thoughts, feelings and ideas, lacking the confidence, strength and conviction to do so:
“Indeed, compulsive and rigid moralism arises in given persons precisely as the result of a lack of sense of being. Rigid moralism is a compensatory mechanism by which the individual persuades himself to take over the external sanctions because he has no fundamental assurance that his own choices have any sanction of their own.”Rollo May
- Racist thinking
In a fantasy world where we are all the same, where there would only be one way of thinking, everyone will have been bred to be identical.
This, combined with laws and organised brain-washing, would ultimately lead to an extreme and prejudiced attitude.
Any differences have all been abhorred and banned as ‘dangerous;’ there would be no minorities, only a vast and all-consuming majority.
“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them”
Racial prejudice involves a way of thinking that is one-sided, based on personal bias and faulty premises.
It puts people in boxes, and labels them, having no interest in who they are individually. People have to conform, and stifle any different ways of thinking.
Such a way of seeing the world, and the people in it, brooks no contradictions, no uncertainties, no diversity of thinking.
It views everything, internally and externally, through a narrow lens, without much diversity of colour, with a limited palette.
Limited Palette. David Hugh Cobley. Wikioo.
“When we become fixed in our perceptions, we lose our ability to fly.”
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.
If we take this to its extreme, our world would be just like the science-fiction one described above, where we have to be all the same, there will be no ‘other,’ no people who are unlike us.
It is disturbing to realise that our thinking often reflects our culture and that we can become imprinted with attitudes that might be cruel or racist without us even being aware of it.
This post is highlighting such extremes in order to demonstrate the absurdity of such rigid thinking.
- The Dangers Of Generalising.
The Immigrants, Prudence Heward, 1929. Wikimedia Commons
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
We may see these imprinted attitudes in the demonising of ‘the other’ in matters relating to immigrants today, where barriers and ‘defences’ are erected against desperate, traumatised people who attempt to enter another country, as if they were wicked enemies.
Generalising is a way of describing a whole group of people in a manner that lumps everyone together as ‘all the same.’
Attributing certain characteristics to a person or group on the basis of their perceived difference, is a prejudiced, discriminatory and dysfunctional way of seeing others.
It rigidly categorises people, as if human beings can be slotted into their ‘place’ like inanimate objects. It begins to remind us of the nightmarish world postulated in this post.
This approach forces people to fit into pigeonholes that class ‘them’ as all the same.
The truth is that no two people are exactly alike. Even ‘identical’ twins have differences.
- Twins and Doppelgangers.
Sebastian Bieniek. Doppelgänger No. 1. Wikimedia Commons.
“He looked so much like me, I could tell that he saw it, too, we shared the smile of recognizing ourselves in each other, how many imposters do I have? DO we all make the same mistakes, or has one of us gotten it right, or even just a bit less wrong, am I the imposter?”
Jonathan Safran Foer
Finding our doppelganger, someones who resembles us closely, gives us a thrill…. and many of us love to see identical twins, both children and adults.
Choo Yut Shing. Lookalikes. Meet and greet visitors at Bugis Junction.Wikimedia Commons.
We are fascinated by the sameness because this occurs within the context of a world where there is much difference; that is why such similarities are so excitedly appreciated.
However, parents of twins often point out that it is important to be aware of the possible negative psychological impact if the twins are made to dress alike, especially as they get older.
Being treated as ‘the same’ might mean the children have identity issues. After all, twins can be very different in personality, despite looking very alike.
The Twins: Virginia and Jane (1917) by Joseph Thurman Pearson, Jr. Double portrait of the artist’s daughters. Wikimedia Commons.
“My twin daughters are different beings, with different minds and different personalities. If I dress them the same now, where does it end? Oh, look at them with their matching identical boyfriends, their matching blue Nissan Micras and their matching wedding dresses. Oh my god, NO!”
- Actually NOTHING is the same…..nothing is perfect.
In the real world, the world we live in, there is variety, difference and diversity in abundance. That is, in fact, what makes the world go round.
Chestnut Trees at Louveciennes. Camille Pissarro. Wikioo.
“In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.”
Anatomy study by Michelangelo | Wikimedia Commons
“… the law that every man is a unique miracle; they dare to show us man as he is, uniquely himself to every last movement of his muscles…”
Asha ten Broeke. Cloned. Flickr.
(Cloned businessmen, based on a photo by Jean Scheijen.)
“The cloning of humans is on most of the lists of things to worry about from Science, along with behaviour control, genetic engineering, transplanted heads, computer poetry and the unrestrained growth of plastic flowers.”
“Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead.”
By oversimplifying the complexities of a human being, by refusing to see the whole person, the reductionist approach is the direct opposite of a holistic way of seeing.
Andrew Stevovich – Subway Loops Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
With every individual having to repress difference, sameness anonymises and reduces everyone to clones of each other.
Whilst the above cloning image would appear to be nightmarish, how is it that many young people seem to want to all look the same?
Nana and Kahi in 2011 Seoul Fashion Week. Wikimedia Commons.
“Fashion is a disease of trying to look alike!”
Mehmet Murat ildan
“Instead of broadening the choices of how to look good, we have only broadened the ways we try to look alike. Women are headed toward one face, one body and one expression.”
- A Look At Healthy Identification: The Benefits And Joys Of Recognising Ourselves In Others.
Trying to look the same as everyone else is quite different from identifying in a healthy way with another person. We are all influenced by others; that is how we grow and develop.
It is comforting to find that others think in similar ways to us, that they like the same things as we do, in many different areas.
This makes us feel that we belong, that we are not ‘too different’ from those around us, and we fit in with them. We can feel close to those with whom we have something in common.
Recognising aspects of ourself in the other emotionally and physically is important in terms of developing and confirming our own and identity.
“Through others we become ourselves.”
Lev S. Vygotsky
Claire Tabouret – The Soccer Team Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“There is a reason the word belonging has a synonym for want at its centre; it is the human condition.”
In some ways, uniformity can be a good thing, satisfying in its predictability, accuracy, order, and unchanging qualities, as long as it is not used to quash individuality.
We have a basic need to feel part of something bigger than ourselves, where we can learn from and identify with others, have them reflect and affirm who we are, engage with us, give us a feeling of being loved and accepted.
The poet John Donne was right when he said:
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
- “Unity In Diversity.”
Without variety, as we have seen, there would be a dullness of repetitive patterns, a lack of innovation and change, and a monotony arising from the world being all the same…. always.
What is important is to respect our own differences and those of others in the world, finding common ground and meeting points within our diversity. This will promote growth and creativity for us all.
“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation.”
In our real world, there are many ways in which we may be different from others.
Some of these are:
Gender, sexual orientation, race, colour, age, class, culture, ability/disability, ethnicity, personality, life experience, individual make-up, beliefs, language, religion, and, of course, ways of thinking.
Let us value and celebrate all our differences!
© Linda Berman.
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