A few days ago, as I was watching a tutorial on YouTube*, an expert in the fashion industry said something that surprised me. The surprise came not because I was unaware of the suggestion she made or that I doubted it would work but simply because someone in such an esteemed position in such an exclusive industry would be doing something that I do, too.
I thought it was just me.
I was just watching YouTube for entertainment, but that sense of surprise has nevertheless lingered. It has made me look at things from a slightly tilted angle for the last several days. How can two people in such different situations in the world be behaving so similarly?
I began to ponder how often this might be happening in my life. In recognizing and celebrating diversity, how many points of similarity was I failing to recognize and celebrate? What connections could I enhance if I simply mentioned, “Hey, I do/think/feel that, too?” Could I validate someone else the way that watching that video had validated me?
Some of us travel our timeline politely and quietly, trying not to add to the world’s oversupply of contention and hurt feelings. I believe that to be an admirable intention. Could we work even a bit harder, though, and look past those inevitable points of difference to embrace the unlikely but revealing points of sameness?
Once you start looking for these touch-points of similarity in your experiences, they show up all the time.
Many years ago, we had an elderly neighbor who was a “church lady” of the old school. You would have expected her to be provincial in her attitudes. Nevertheless, at the same time that I was exchanging postcards with strangers around the world, she was reaching out to strangers herself by way of an international friends organization in her church. Unexpectedly, we both found value in engaging around the globe in a positive manner. It wasn’t just me.
Our quintessentially American holiday of Thanksgiving** is celebrated in multiple forms around the world. While we disagree about the date and dress code, the impulse to express appreciation for our sustenance seems fundamentally human and nearly universal. It’s not just us.
Then there comes the moment when you encounter someone who seems absolutely unlike you and wonder (and here’s where it can get uncomfortable) what that sense of difference says not about them but about you.
Many years ago, I was told in passing that a favorite history professor of mine had previously been engaged in my own field at the time, philosophy. My initial reaction was to be upset, to feel a sense of abandonment or a rejection of my own choice. No, I was reassured by the narrator, the professor simply had come to feel that he had accomplished what he wanted in philosophy and that moving forward history had the most to offer. Given time, just like him, I also have come to value – even more highly now than I did at the time – the power of looking to the past.
In the end, we are all much less different than we seem.
“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: ‘Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’ What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer…”
Robert F. Kennedy – April 4, 1968 – at an Indianapolis, IN, campaign rally – announcing the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
*Lisa Eldridge is a renowned professional makeup artist and brand spokesperson for Lancome. She prepares celebrities for the red carpet and appears there herself. She also cuts tubes of product open to scrape our the last little bit … just like me.
** See this Atlantic article for some wide-ranging examples.