Celebrating Differences by Remembering the Similarities

Studio 5 Contributor and Clinical Psychologist Dr. Liz Hale shares five similarities, found in even the most different of relationships.

The United States Human Genome Project was a study coordinated under President Clinton by the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health to determine the DNA variations among us for the purpose of diagnosing, treating, and one day preventing the thousands of disorders that affect us. The study determined that there are about 25,000 genes in human DNA; and that the human genome sequence is almost exactly the same (99.9%) in all people. While different genes for physical traits such as skin and hair color can be identified between individuals, no consistent pattern of genes across the human genome exist to distinguish us one from another. With the exception of extremely isolated populations, like the pygmy tribes in Africa, we are more alike than different.

At a time when our world has more heightened divisions of political affiliations and religions, it is refreshing to go beyond the labels and affirm that we’re more similar than different. There are many personality tests that determine whether we are red or blue, extrinsic or intrinsic, or in this quadrant or that quadrant. While we may have distinct preferences or “leanings,” that doesn’t mean we can’t re-orient our behavior into other areas; it may just not come as naturally.

Perhaps more important, we should also be asking ourselves why we as a society are so emotionally invested in this research. Will it— or should it—make any difference in the way we perceive ourselves and others or how we live our lives and allow others to live theirs?Perhaps the answers to the most salient questions in this debate lie not within the biology of human brains but rather in the cultures those brains have created.

Whatever we focus on grows! If you and I are going to myopically see only our differences, that will divide us. The key to understanding and enhancing human connections is seeing, like our genomes, where we, or our circumstances, are similar:

SEEING “I” to “I”


While we might initially think that bullies are quite different than the victims of bullying, they actually may share similar outlooks and difficulties. In a recent study, it appears that victims and bullies both have poor problem-solving skills within social situations. Typical bullies have negative attitudes toward others, feel badly about themselves, and most likely, grew up in a home with conflict. Victims seem to share some of those same characteristics. The dividing line, however, appears to be around academics. Youth who become bullies report that they dislike school, and they tend to perform worse academically that those who later become victims. So where is the benefit in all this? Recognizing similarities in opposition breeds hope.Especially for the victim. When we fail to see others as superior,and ourselves as inferior, we can start to behave and interact with more secure authenticity.

But the reality is we often feel broken, incapable or faulty. In psychotherapy, I often hear clients say, “No one has it as bad as I do.” Or, “No one understands how bad my childhood was.” Or, “I’m the only one who has ever thought such terrible, obscure thoughts.” The reality is, you can be guarantee that if you have a particular thought ~ it’s not the first time it’s been “thunk! ” We are not all that different! When you look at the continuum of self-loving versus self-loathing, they are opposite ends of the same principle: self-awareness or self-absorption! If we feel down on ourselves and look at others who seems to feel so confident and happy, it’s not that they are self-loving as much as they are other-loving. The focus is not on them!

There is more sameness in physical ability and endurance, such as in running, than previously thought! First, let me explain the differences. Men have larger muscle mass and greater lung capacity enabling them to run faster and longer distances than women. However, females ought not to feel weaker to their male running counterparts. Through training and consistent running, women are able to rapidly catch up to men. This is due to the fact that a positive change in fitness shows up faster in women’s bodies than men’s, equalizing the running field, so to speak! And, according to the American Psychological Association, over a 20 year period, our two genders are similar in personality, communication, cognitive ability, and leadership than previously realized. (We’ll talk more about gender similarities and differences next week!)

A common complaint I hear among my friends who are teachers is that parents fail to recognize the importance of children attending school when school is in, and that there is a need to postpone family vacations during school breaks. These teachers express a responsibility for every child’s learning and that by simultaneously teaching all their students their students not only learn with each other but from each other. The other side is that well-meaning, loving parents want their children to experience the world and create strong family memories that will last a lifetime. What is the commonality between teachers and parents? They both care about doing an upstanding job! Parents who can place themselves in the shoes of teachers can assist either by planning vacations during breaks or help with assignment gathering and make-up homework following in-school vacations. Teachers can utilize a student’s family vacation as a way to help facilitate learning in the classroom. If a family is going to Hawaii, the student may be asked to bring back seashells for every classmate in preparation for a science or geology lab.

Or, Catholic versus Mormon.Or, Republican versus Democrat. There are more similarities than dissimilarities. (the Human Genome Study proves it!) We may tell ourselves we don’t understand or even like the views of another person but the tragedy comes from the unwillingness to listen…and to find the common emotions, feelings and perspectives. Most people are good; most people want to love and be loved; most people want to instill strong values in their children; and, most people care about the future of their grandchildren. There is variety in unity; we just need to find the unity in our variety.

Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.

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