At a time when the news offers a steady stream of ways people battle because of the differences between them, there’s an antidote sorely needed: an understanding of the ways someone else shares our common human condition. Call it “just like me.”
That’s the attitude that counters the we-and-they thinking epidemic in the kind of cliques in schools that foment fights or bullying, in the biases against diversity in the workplace and in the wars being fought between groups worldwide.
It was called the “narcissism of small differences” by Freud. Vamik Volkan, a Turkish psychiatrist, saw this at work in his native Cyprus, where for generations, Cypriots and Turks waged a war against each other when, to the eye of someone just visiting the island, they were one and the same people. He recognized that each group had seized on some small custom unique to the other group and demonized them for it, all the while ignoring the vast number of ways they were similar.
That’s the story of all too many wars throughout history, of too many arguments against letting people of all backgrounds have a fair chance, and of too many instances of bullying in high school hallways.