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perspectives

from the Secretary General

Differentiation

by Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern

Q. What’s the difference between a whiffenbird?
A. One leg is both the same!

No, it doesn’t make any sense at all – it’s just an old nonsense riddle. On the other hand, maybe it does suggest something very sensible indeed – the absurdity of overemphasizing difference.

We seem to thrive on difference, for better or worse:

“I’m taller” — “He’s shorter”
“She’s fatter” — “I’m thinner”
“We’re richer” — “They’re poorer”
“He’s a slob” — “He’s a snob”
“She’s too pale” — “She’s too dark”
“They’ve got class” — “They have no class”
“He makes more” — “He makes less”
“I’m smarter” — “She’s dumber”
“They live better” — “We live worse”
“I’ve got friends” — “He has no friends”

After all, it’s differences that distinguish us one from the other. When we need to know exactly who someone is, we look for some unique expression of difference.

Fingerprints identify us. There are at least six billion people in the world today. That means there are at least sixty billion fingerprints. None of them is the same.

Modern technology looks for better identifiers inside us. The combination and sequencing of genes on each person’s chromosomes are unique, even though the number of chromosomes and most genes is common to all.

The Psalmist marveled at his uniqueness,

Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully,
   wonderfully made;
wonderful are all your works.

You are absolutely unique. So am I. But, it’s difficult to live in solitary splendor. That’s why we seek some common ground with others.

Alas, often the common ground we find is superficial. We opt for people who look like us, dress like us or speak our language. But, common characteristics like these can mask profound differences of values, goals and beliefs.

Our tendency to identify with superficial characteristics can work against our best interests in still other ways. There may be people with whom we have deep feelings, values and commitments in common, but we don’t recognize them for who they really are – superficial differences put us off.

I may have more in common with a kind and loving foreigner whose dress and language are strange to me than I do with a scheming and selfish neighbor in my hometown.

I may have more in common with a sincere and profoundly religious Jew, Muslim or Hindu than I do with a vain and hypocritical Christian who sings beside me in church.

It may turn out that I have more in common with the one I have been taught is my enemy than with the one I presume is my friend.

A good rule of thumb is to find the best and deepest common ground and act accordingly. For starters, we’re all God’s creatures, called to be his children, challenged to live as brothers and sisters and destined for eternal life – together!

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Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



Tags: Unity Religious Differences