Jewish Journal

We’re the same, but different? | Ways to Understand this Prevalent Dichotomy

by Nicole Behnam

September 25, 2012 | 12:26 am

From birth, philosopher John Locke contends, human beings are born on a blank slate: tabula rasa. So from day one, we are being influenced by the society around us, our environment, and what we are learning, yet we are still different from one another. We are still individuals, and although our thought-processes may be different from our parents’ or teachers’ thought processes, we are somehow “independent thinkers.” American author Mary Higgins Clark, argues the following:

“. . . the best hope of humankind is to maintain as rich a diversity of social types as possible, with the expectation that each of these experiments in the human future will cross-fertilize with others, and thus maintain the vital diversity essential for indefinite survival…Competition for ascendancy in world trade, power, or military might are simply empty, meaningless concepts for the future. By encouraging diversity elsewhere, each society ensures a rich source of ideas and techniques for its own future.”

Her point is that even though societies have different tendencies that unite the people who belong to them, if diversity is encouraged, then critical thinking skills, which are essential to human thought processes, will help people’s mental development. In this way, we can understand how unity and diversity are both existing together, and we can continue to absorb information from our surroundings (teachers, parents, religious affiliations, etc.) and still maintain critical thinking skills which will help us become good debaters. And let’s admit it, good debaters are good winners. They prosper.

In understanding the concept of unity, we need to acknowledge that universal principles exist according to nature. These principles bring birth to values and morals that apply to each and every human being, but there is one problem: separating factors. Every religion, culture, and society maintains different values. In America, for example, we value brotherhood (eg. “I am my brothers’ keeper), love for our neighbors, and treating others as we ourselves wish to be treated. In fact, these values seem to be universal for the most part, but are not necessarily valued by each individual person (eg. murders, priests who molest children, Michael Jackson).

These values espouse social union and friendship—an Aristotalean priority—and at the same time, are thought to make each individual person a moral person. Some philosophers, however, will argue that morality is relative—that each person has already adopted a sense of what is right and wrong, and will create his/her own values and act on them. But science, which is like mathematics in the sense that there are proven theories, cannot be ignored.

Scientist (microbiologist) and author René Dubos, asserted in one of his philosophical essays that:

   “The remarkable compatibility between all fields of science, whether they deal with inanimate objects or with living things has implications that affect deeply the culture of our times. The validity of these implications is supported by the fact that the various scientific disciplines strengthen each other when, perchance, they can establish contact. Despite the immense diversity of creation, we all accept that there exists in nature a profound underlying unity. The search for this unity provides the motivation for the lives of many different men--some who, like Einstein, search for it in general natural laws and others who, like Teilhard de Chardin, would trace cosmic evolution to a divine origin.”

Einstein abandoned school, which is our society at least, is a social “must.” Like Einstein, if we want to see ourselves as “one,” we must ignore whatever separates us, because the interdependence implied by the notion of the oneness of humanity requires the abandonment of any idea or activity that contradicts what society wants.

Einstein went against social norms and even conquered “Natural Law” by questioning it, and benefitted everyone through his research, which helped mankind further their understanding in physics and math. He abandoned social morality (going to school) and still succeeded—and we all benefitted from it. In essence, he was different (diverse) in that he abandoned social laws, but he was similar, in that he was just like any other human being—he wanted to survive and succeed. And he did both.

If we examine and understand unity and diversity from a medical perspective, we can see how the existence of both simultaneously, is not only possible, but essential to our prosperity as humans. When a person receives an injury to one part of the body, the entire system of that person is affected as the body attempts to heal itself. In fact, if the injury is severe enough—like cancer—doctors will tell you the whole body, not just the affected part, will become debilitated, and thus the doctors’ treatment will become multifaceted. Not only will the injured area be treated with specific remedies (in cancer’s case—chemotherapy), but the whole body will also benefit of nutrients that are provided to assist in the healing.

Understanding religion and religious differences will also assist human beings in their quest to survive and prosper. Even though we are all religiously diverse, we all feel like we have a moral duty to be good people (except for murders, I suppose). Different religions, however, separate us and cause conflict, which creates hatred. We can see this in the Middle East, and particularly, Israel (or Palestine, for the sake of fairness).

Neither Jews nor Muslims are bad people, but their religious differences and assertion of which part of Israel’s land belongs to which religious group creates hatred. However, understanding will create prosperity for both Islamics and Jews in this case.  Each religious group clearly knows that their differences are threatening to the preservation of their own traditions, but if they truly understand and accept this fundamental truth—I guess I can even call it a “natural law,” the Islamics and Jews will *most likely* cease to fight and will be able to live harmoniously, and still practice their different religious traditions. 

Focusing on the natural law, science, religion, or medicine to understand how the dichotomous existence of unity and diversity is actually beneficial to human beings is not enough. We are human beings—complex creatures who have a relationship to nature because we need nature to survive. At the same time, we have a relationship to each other because we need each other to survive. If we seek to understand how human interaction with nature is as important as human interaction with human interaction, we will be balanced. And by balanced, I mean happier and more successful.

Let’s admit it—isn’t this what we all want?  We will learn to be interdependent instead of dependent on other people or on interaction with nature (though we must satisfy our biological needs, like eating and sleeping). And this balance will help us maintain our individual sense of self (which makes us diverse) while at the same time, will help us learn when to rely on each other in times of need. The understanding of the simultaneous dichotomy between unity and diversity is really that simple.

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When Nicole Behnam was 15, she joined the school newspaper and discovered that journalism was one of her passions. To take her passion one step further, she called Brentwood...

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