Seth Godin wrote a fantastic post the other day.
In it, he talks about our alertness for differences.
For as long as we’ve been keeping records, human beings have been on alert for the differences that divide us. Then we fixate on those differences, amplifying them, ascribing all sorts of irrelevant behaviors to them. Until, the next thing you know, we start referring to, “those people.”
Seth suggests that rather than look for differences, we should search for things in common. I love this post and agree.
However, I think there is more. What if it took us a lot more to notice differences? What if differences didn’t make us uncomfortable so quickly.
It’s the beginning of Seth’s post that struck me the most.
If you’re sharing a cab to the airport with a stranger, what happens if he’s two inches taller than you? Probably nothing. There’s nothing to distract, or to cause discomfort. You make small talk.
What if he’s a little shorter than you? Or left handed?
Perhaps he’s not from your town, but from Depew, about twenty miles away. Probably nothing to consider…
What if he has shoulder-length red hair?
At some point, most people reach a moment of discomfort. What if he’s 7 feet tall? Will you mention it? Or if he’s under four feet? What if he’s from a different country? Or a different race or speaking with a significant accent (or, more accurately, an accent that’s different from yours)?
This is powerful and the money quote is, “At some point, most people reach a moment of discomfort.”
That “point,” the point that marks our intolerance, our fear, and our judgment, when does it kick in?
It’s important because this point is where we start losing the humanity game.
Yes, we need to find commonalities, but what about limiting our discomfort?
I couldn’t help but ask myself, where’s my discomfort line. What does it take for me to become uncomfortable, where is my dividing line? When do I start seeing people as them vs. me? When do I start ascribing things to individuals who are different and call them “those people?”
It’s a fascinating journey and a difficult question.
What about you?
What if your moment of discomfort comes too quickly and it doesn’t take much for you to be uncomfortable? What happens? What do you lose? How many opportunities do you miss? How many opportunities does the other person miss? What ideas never come to fruition? What experiences do you lose?
It’s an interesting question.
Connections are at the root of all ideas, relationships, experiences, and life in general and when discomfort is too easily found, all of our lives are stunted.
Seth’s post was powerful not only because we need to find commonality with others, but also because it reminds us, we shouldn’t be so quick to get uncomfortable. The less uncomfortable we are, the less effort and need to find commonality. We shouldn’t need to work at finding a commonality to make us comfortable, to feel better.
Yes, the new, the different, and the unsuspecting, they cause us to pause. But, they are not absolutes, but rather alternatives to our norms. The more time we spend with people like us, who look like us, act like us, etc., the smaller the differences required to trigger our discomfort.
I say we get good at being less uncomfortable first. Then, finding common ground, might not be so important.
The UFC fighter Connor McGreggor offers the best advice to battle (pun intended) discomfort.
“The more you see the uncomfortable, the more you will become comfortable.”