Becoming Alike in Our Differences

Becoming Alike in Our Differences

Sometimes hidden from me

in daily custom and in trust,

so that I live by you unaware

as by the beating of my heart,

Suddenly you flare in my sight,

a wild rose looming at the edge

of thicket, grace and light

where yesterday was only shade,

and once again I am blessed, choosing

again what I chose before.

-Wendell Berry    

 

Speaking with some of my student employees, I found myself in a philosophical conversation that was familiar ground. Always slightly out of step with my peers, it was refreshing to tread the fertile ground of the “why” question with younger minds. I should preface this by saying the school I work for is an experimental art school and both faculty and students tend to walk the edge of what is considered fringe in thought and practice.

The conversation turned to the idea that people in close proximity become inadvertently like-minded.  Is it human nature to form tribes and alliances with other like-minded people?  My question for the students was, “In your differences, are you not becoming more alike?” This caused some head scratching and much debate back and forth. Is it in societies push to diversify that we have stepped beyond embracing uniqueness into siloed tribes of like? Uncomfortable question to be sure.

People like to feel a sense of belonging. Even in fringe communities, the casts of characters often dress the same, eat the same and think the same. I am baffled when I see this happening even at an institution of creative and exploratory practice. Look closely and you may notice the similarities of people in these groups. Yes, they exist outside the social norms of the day, but in their own tribe, they are alike.

As one the wanders from one group to the next, I find it more challenging to be separate. By choosing this lifestyle, I am often alienated from the most unique groups of people. Maybe it is because I am a free spirit yet do not buy into every crystal and aura reading ideology, maybe it is because I am a hippie yet will not run around in a tie dyed shirt barefoot in the woods. These sensibilities do not speak to me in totality. Parts of the lifestyle do, but never everything. This may also be why I find organized religion difficult. I enjoy pieces of most practices, but tire of the all or nothing mentality that is required to call myself Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. I prefer the beautiful flow of mysticism that encompasses many different views but asks the same questions. In the realm of politics, I am an independent. Politics has a pack mentality that sickens me. I am allowed to have my own ideas separate and apart from a party. God forbid I am a conservative that believes in abortion rights or a liberal that believes in lower taxes.

 

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu

Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East

or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not

composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or in the next,

did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace

of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two

worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that

breath breathing human being.

-Jelaluddin Rumi

 

Reading Wendell Berry, his “wild rose” speaks most specifically to me as one that hides under the radar but blooms nonetheless. Each group of people that I interact with has something to teach and that is what is so fascinating to me. Whether I borrow some of the ideas or not is completely up to me. Being different requires strength in standing alone. Solidarity with self can be difficult in practice. It is saying no when everyone around you is saying yes; it is being comfortable being the only voice for your point of view. Maybe the answer is not to continually seek out people more like us; maybe it is to flourish among others that are different. In this way we can celebrate our differences with no expectation to conform to a specific type of rebellion.

We are all members of the human race. In this way we are all the same. Given the freedom to explore our personalities we flourish into a gorgeous field of wildflowers, each different but as beautiful as the one before. A daisy does not try to be a rose or any other flower for that matter, the daisy just blooms. Each flower, standing alone and blooming creates the togetherness of the field, breathtaking in totality only because of these differences. The next time you are in a group of people, find those most different from yourself and spend some time with them. You may discover a few things that interest or speak to you, even if just to observe, listen and learn.

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