In several recent circumstances, I have engaged in somewhat tough discussions about whether humans are the same or different. In all cases, the other participant argued that by focusing, discussing or teaching differences leads to stereotyping or putting people in boxes. And that humans are all the same. There are no differences between us.
Yes, but no.
In many senses, we are the same.
We have similar cells and molecular content in our physical body, even while appearance may differ.
We have a similar skeletal structure, while height and bone size may differ. (In reference to the meme floating around Facebook showing skeletons saying we are all the same underneath)
We have universal needs, but how we go about achieving them differs.
We experience the same feelings and emotions, but how and when we express them differs.
We (or most of us) want to do and be good, but how we define good differs.
The list can go on and on…
I believe that by understanding differences, what they are, why they occur, and what is intended, helps us to see our common ground.
This is why I teach about differences… (with the caution that any tool that categorises people should be used as a guide to understand and not a means to stereotype)
To get to a point that we can see that our needs and our intentions are quite similar, but how we go about achieving them can differ.
To realise that while we may look and act quite differently, our needs and having them fulfilled drive us.
To acknowledge that while we are all in the same storm at sea, many factors contribute to how we ride it out (whether in a comfortable, large, stable ship; a rowboat; or struggling in the sea itself without a life vest). And that impacts our entire worldview, behaviour, and actions.
And finally, to gain a respect for different perspectives. To realise that there is not a singular definition of how to be and do good.
I strongly believe in the value of diverse teams. They definitely aren’t easy, as there are so many opportunities for misunderstandings, frustration, and conflict.
But when we can realise the reasons and background driving different perspectives and values, and open our minds to the possibility of more than our own definition of right and good, then we have an opportunity to solve problems much more effectively, design products that are that much more robust, and satisfy customers to a greater level.
I have always been fascinated by differences in culture, in language, in appearance (I love that there are so many different ways to define beauty around the world), in food, in defining what good is.
However, earlier in my career, particularly when I felt imposter syndrome more strongly, I fought questions or differing views. Particularly when one of the people who worked at a lower level in a hierarchy questioned me, I perceived it as a threat, questioning my credibility.
Then, I grew to enjoy and cherish it, in its time and place. When we are discussing solutions, when we are searching for potential directions, a good debate with conflicting views is wonderful. If we can solve a problem by considering two vastly different approaches, the solution will be that much more robust and solid. If we can find a way to meet conflicting needs within project or product constraints, the outcome will be better for it.
But if we engage in conflict for conflict’s sake, whether it is to secure that we are always right or have our way, we will lose. Our customers will lose. Our products will lose. We will lose, because we didn’t give ourselves the opportunity to grow and consider another perspective.
So this will be a conflict that I will continue to engage in. That while we have an awful lot in common, we need to be first aware of differences, then have respect for them, and continually strive for more than a common ground, but rather the middle ground between us.
Middle ground refers to a higher level between different points, as taught in Buddhism and summarised by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Like a pyramid, where the middle ground is the highest point above the different base points. Not a mediocre compromise where everyone has lost something and the outcome is lesser than any original point. I have seen middle ground achieved many times, where there is mutual respect and understanding of differences with agreement on a common goal.
With this, I also decided to offer the first session of my five session training class, How and Why We Misunderstand Each Other, for free (and including a 10% discount to purchase the rest of the class). I hope that you are interested to explore differences and misunderstandings, so that you can be a part of reaching middle ground in your interactions. In order to receive the access, you also agree to sign up for my newsletter with weekly information and inspiration, as well as discounts and free events only shared with this group.
I challenge you to also see the paradox (or in Chinese philosophy, the yin and the yang, that two opposites can exist simultaneously), that while there are so many amazing and wonderful differences to experience and try to understand, we can find both a common and a middle ground with respect and curiosity.