For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard people call America the land of opportunity. I’m not sure who those people are, as I really can’t remember exactly who said that, but I know some did. I’m not going to spend any time challenging the notion that America is still the land of opportunity in this blog post. In fact, I think opportunity still abounds regardless of what city or town you’re in. But, I think this land screams a different title; one that is much less “sugar plums and gumdrops.”
You see, I think Americans are really, really obsessed with personal differences. We’re quick to describe other people in terms of how they differ from us rather than favoring what’s similar. Furthermore, we often favor physical attributes rather than aspects of their personality. For instance, if I asked you to describe your high school principal, you might talk about things like gender, height, weight, ethnicity, or clothing style. We can probably all agree that a principal’s speaking and people skills are much more important than their clothing, but for some reason important attributes can get glossed over.
Now I will acknowledge that someone’s relational proximity to another person does have a significant influence on how they describe one another. I mean you probably would describe your best friend mostly in terms of their personality and character traits. (If you don’t they probably aren’t really your best friend). However, the point remains that we still favor differences rather than similarities, particularly with people we don’t know.
Why is that? Why is America so obsessed with what is different? Is it our indestructible sense of individualism? Maybe our somewhat xenophobic past? Perhaps the reason really doesn’t matter all that much. Regardless of how you look at it, differences create chasms, but similarities build bridges to span those gaps.
These gaps have created a lot of tension at times for me in my relationships; maybe you can relate. This tension is especially noticeable when someone is quick to point out what is different about you and them. Although there are good differences, when not identified in a spirit of admiration, differences can quickly become points of contempt. Have you ever found yourself thinking, “Why do they only see me for what they don’t like instead of for the good things I bring to the table?” If you have, then you’ve experienced the tension first hand.
The question I’ll now ask is what does pointing out the differences in people really accomplish if it’s not done in admiration? The answer is pretty obvious isn’t it? Next to nothing. Again, it’s one thing to celebrate the unique qualities of a person, but anything else is just silly. I don’t have any answers for this American obsession with differences, but I do know that they aren’t helping. Maybe one day we’ll be able to admire people for that sort of thing rather than making it a point of contempt. Until that day comes, America will be the land of differences.