Difference Fades Away in Light of Our Humanity

Only rarely does difference define us. Identifiers such as our ethnicity, our religion, the culture in which we’re raised, or our physical and mental abilities most certainly shape us, but that doesn’t mean they complete us. Our basic humanity unites us far more than our differences divide us.

My 12-year-old son sets a perfect example. He has a mood disorder, and many times he behaves in ways that would be more appropriate for a 2-year-old than an almost-teenager. A missing Lego can lead to an on-the-floor, wailing meltdown. His mood disorder touches every part of his life, but it’s not the sum total of who he is.

Like many 12-year-old boys, he loves Minecraft. If I let him, he’d be happy to eat pizza for every meal. He wants to wear his hair longer than I would like. He grumbles about showering, brushing his teeth, and doing his homework. He and his little brother love getting out their Nerf guns and playing cops and robbers, roughhousing to the point where I think the whole upstairs is going to come crashing down around my ears. While his mood disorder and the behaviors that go with it make him different from most 12-year-old boys, he still is a 12-year-old boy … and except for that one difference, he’s pretty much exactly what you would expect a 12-year-old boy to be.

Children living with autism present another example. They look different, and one reason is because they engage in a lot of self-soothing behaviors. But who doesn’t? My husband runs when he’s stressed. I, unfortunately, can bulldoze through a pint of ice cream when I’m rushing to meet a deadline. Other people turn to alcohol. Even something as simple as starting the morning with a cup of coffee is a self-soothing ritual. Some of us self-soothe in more socially acceptable ways than others, but the driving force is the same: We all want to reduce stress and anxiety so we can feel comfortable in our own skin.

If you prefer an example based on hard science, here it is: Research has proven that, when deaf children learn sign language, the activity stimulates exactly the same part of the brain as when children with normal hearing capabilities learn spoken language. So while sign language is indeed a completely different language with its own grammar and syntax, and while it certainly looks different, the neurological processes going on in the background are identical.

Sometimes difference can seem insurmountable, but those are the times when we need to look deeper and realize how alike we are on a human level. On the surface, a goldfish and a stingray could hardly be more different, but they’re both still fish, and they do what fish do: swim, use their gills to take oxygen from water, and eat. Likewise, there are some basic truths of being human that are far more profound than the superficial things that separate us. What would the world be like if we learned to concentrate more on what we have in common?

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