What Makes Us Different Vs. What Makes Us Alike

“What makes us different is so much less important than what makes us alike.”
– Oprah Winfrey

Do you think of a specific person right away when you hear this statement? I did. And it struck a chord with me because I realize I feel this way about not just one person, but several. In fact, for most of us, this is probably true.

It is said, “Like attracts like;” or “Show me who your friends are, and I can tell who you are.” Therefore, we might be more apt to look at this in terms of our friends -- what we have in common with them being what makes us friends. However, the way I think this was meant is in light of race and culture – our differences and our similarities – and how the likenesses are that which gives us strength as a global community.

A very real and present example of this today may be: our cultural and racial identities as Americans, compared to, say, that of Iraqi, Afghani, Jordanian, or Turkish women. We all see the differences in religion, in dress, and their women’s disallowance of certain freedoms we American women typically take for granted. But, what we do not often stop to realize is just how much they are like us: They care about and have deep concern for their families, their children; they undoubtedly miss their loved ones who are also off fighting in a war; and they take pride in who they are and what they believe in. Similarly, they have hobbies and crafts that they do to pass the time, (or by which they make a living). These all are similar ideals, thoughts, and ways of living that you and I are likely to have.

What does this mean to you and me? Hopefully, it means that we realize there are similar traits among our fellow Americans and fellow citizens of the world, which often divide us: Muslim against Jew, Catholic against non-denominational, gay against heterosexual, or White against Hispanic or Native American. But, what comes to my mind, from these instances in our similarities with Iraqis, for example, is that if nothing else, they bond us. I, for one feel more compassionate towards them when I realize those seemingly “small” details of their lives. They have children, too; they have loved ones who are suffering, too; and they want to see an end to violence, just as we do. I recall the early days of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, when every day I would look, cringingly, while we passed a hillside while on the train, covered in white crosses: one for each American life lost. There are many such hillsides – marked or unmarked – so many places in the world.

So, my challenge to all of us is that next time you encounter someone whose looks, views, or way of life is different from yours, take a moment to see what you might have in common, instead. Perhaps ask yourself: If he or she was sitting before me, what would I ask them in order to know them better? Or more to the point: How would I go about suggesting a commonality we may have? I know from personal experience just how rewarding such a revelation can be.

Once you have stepped outside of your “comfort zone” to see another culture or way of life through someone else’s eyes, your world grows. You will feel how such an eye-opening experience can help you and enlighten you. And, all this is possible because you chose to find out, not, "how am I different from this person next to me?," but how are we the same. At the end of the day, and in the words of former President John F. Kennedy: “What unites us is far greater than what divides us.”