Be Different: Because in being different, we are all the same
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
Just the other day I was watching a cute human-interest story on the local news. The subject of the report was a local school production of “Honk”, a musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale of the Ugly Duckling. I had my selfish reasons for watching. It just so happens that two of my children were in the play, so I was hoping to catch a glimpse of them. And I did get to do just that. I thought they were adorable. What else would I think? I’m their mom. But that is not what I wanted to tell you about.
The Ugly Duckling is a timeless tale of how difference is misunderstood as making us separate, when in truth it is difference that can draw us together. What struck me most in the video was another little boy, about six years old. He was being interviewed about what the story of the Ugly Duckling teaches us about how to treat others who are “different”.
The interviewer, standing off camera must have asked the little boy something simple like: “How do you treat people who are different than you?”
The boy answers precisely as you would expect him to: “If people are different from you,” he says, “you still should be nice to them.” And of course he is right. You should. But that is not enough for the interviewer. She poses a follow up question.
She asks him ever so gently but persistently, “Why?”
The little boy pauses. “Because if they’re different . . . and you’re different,” he says slowly. . . and then he stops and you can see the wheels turning in his mind and the light come to his eyes, “then how different are they from you?”
I paused the video. And then I replayed it. Once. Twice. Three times. I was just bowled over. It’s a stunning paradox stumlbed upon by a six year old and held out humbly for the rest of us to witness. A complex, yet delicate equation that twists and turns back on itself. A logic that defies logic: If I am different and you are different, then we are not different at all. We are the same in that we are different. Our differences – which are very real – are our common ground. How amazing would it be if we could all see the deep truth in this?
Of course I am different. Nothing could be more remarkably clear. As a wise teacher of mysticism once told me: I am a unique revelation of the Divine in this world. In the history of the universe, there has never been an expression of Divine creativity quite like me. But I am not unique in my uniqueness. You are also a unique revelation. And in that, we are no different. We are of the same origin. And we carry that origin within us. Yet we have manifested into this world very differently.
In Buddhism, I believe this truth is described as “No Sameness. No Otherness.” We are not precisely the same, nor are we precisely different. Can we rest in that contradiction and allow it to draw us together and not drive us apart?
Further along in “Song of Myself”, Whitman asks (then confidently asserts):
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
Perhaps our greatest truth lies in that contradiction: that when we celebrate our differences and let our differences be the commonality that draws us together, we are infinitely enlarged. So, let’s do as Walt Whitman proposes. Let’s celebrate our differences. Sing of our differences. For your difference is mine. My difference is yours. Because in the end — just as in the beginning — we have always belonged to one another.
Photo credit by Mike @ Flickr
Lauren Rosenfeld is co author of Your To Be List
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