We are more alike than different, but we focus-in on the differences

I can clearly see the differences between groups based on ethnicity, race, gender and religion. There are distinctive characteristics that are common to one group and not another. They are easy to separate, categorise and bucket based on these distinctions.

It is commonly known that women are more indecisive than men, but I know plenty of women who are decisive and plenty of men who are indecisive, probably about the same ratio, so I need to question whether I can hold that to be true. As I challenge my privilege perspective, I have committed to questioning what I know to be true. As part of this journey, I did a thought experiment.

Which is west, red or blue?

Clearly blue is. So blue is west and red is east.

Looking closer, a more accurate statement is that blue is west relative to red. It is a perception and sometimes perceptions deceive. For example which is further west, the West Coast of South America (e.g. Chile) or the East Coast of North America (e.g. New York)?

I exaggerate the difference to allow my brain to categorise more easily

Even though the portion that overlaps is bigger than that which doesn’t, I exaggerate the difference. I recognise that my mind does this and the blue becomes distinctly west and red is distinctly east.

The overlap is insignificant, irrelevant and uncomfortable, so my mind blurs that fact. Focusing on where there is clarity, what is termed “useful”. What is different. My mind likes to find distinctive characteristics, it allows me to bucket and categorise. Leading to heuristics and bias.

I have kept things simple in this thought exercise, but in the real world, everything has multiple variables. When I hear, I’m discriminated against because of…[fill in the blank], I find it interesting. It’s probably true, but potentially there are another 20 factors. Not as big as the “main” one, but that doesn’t make the “main” one big.

This does not exonerate the oppressor, in fact the opposite. They too are probably focusing on the biggest distinguishing factor and exaggerate the significance. Making the person feeling the discrimination correct.

I should over-compensate

Given that I know that I have a bias to exaggerate differences, I try to over-compensate. In my mind I may feel like I am making west shift to east. In reality my bias is stronger than my ability to compensate and I am probably only partially closing the gap. Even if I were to actually over-compensate (unlikely), I may end up being wrong, but I still end up being more right.

Ethnic groups, races, genders, religions all overlap far more than they don’t. There are typically more differences within a grouping, than between them.

And, now, I default to “We are more alike than different.”

This blog post is inspired by my Digital Mentor – Derek Sivers – Assume men and women are the same.

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