"Let me post the most controversial thing about myself in my bio so you can immediately decide if you're for me or against me," I sarcastically thought.
I haven't been active on social media for a few months and I'm still debating which platforms I want to be on due to their questionable standards for privacy. However, I found myself thinking that if I start posting again I should update my bio to something that feels more authentic to who I am right now.
In this quest I discovered that the well-intentioned act of differentiation has actually made it easier to perpetuate fear and otherness. And that, perhaps, if we take a deeper look, our desire to differentiate may in fact be fueled by our inner child's need for security and not our adult-self's desire to celebrate uniqueness.
In this age of entrepreneurship, there's a lot of emphasis on differentiation. In one tag line we're supposed to explain how we're different from everyone else out there. On one hand, that's helpful because it makes it easy to decide who you want to work with. On the other hand, it's fueling cancel-culture and hindering our ability to see each other as humans.
We're self-identifying with our most extreme or controversial views in order to differentiate ourselves and, it's working. It's creating more of us vs. them. It's making it more challenging to see how much we're similar. How we may actually have a lot of the same values and motives, they just play out differently in our lives.
In thinking about all the things I could put in my bio, I came across this idea that while we desire to show off our unique selves, in the context of a short internet connection, we are just dividing ourselves into extremes.
I could tell you a variety of tidbits about my beliefs or lifestyle but would you automatically assume that I'm intolerant of the opposite view or way of doing something? Would you be shocked to learn that we both value health but define it differently?
So I left my bio as is. Vague. Why? Because even though I'll gladly share my beliefs, you don't actually know me….yet. Because if we were chatting in a room together, I wouldn't start by saying, "Hi, I'm Kellie and here are my points of view on everything in life. Does this make you like me or hate me?" No. We'd get to know each other as humans first and find common ground because that's what humans do.
Possible Unhealthy Roots of Differentiation
Sectioning ourselves off into groups where we all like exactly the same things and live by the same beliefs is serving a child-like need to feel safe by providing the illusion of security. When we were children, it was necessary for us to be seen favorably by our caregivers in order to have our basic needs met. Because most of us were raised by humans we experienced a conditional love that taught us, consciously or unconsciously, that to receive love, attention, or food, we needed to be like our family because that was pleasing. As adults we still desire a sense of security, however, we come to realize that we can be different than those around us and still feel secure in who we are and provide ourselves with what we need.
Sure, in some areas it's beneficial to be on the same page - like with your mental wellness providers or the business partner you'll be spending every waking moment with or who you marry. Other services are nice but not a necessity. I can say with certainty that I've worked with coaches and writers who have very different beliefs and lifestyles than me and I was still able to grow and the work got done. I've learned information and skills from people who self-advertise as someone who is not "for me." While a few of their jokes may have landed flat, that didn't stop me from connecting with them and valuing them for who they are and what they have to offer. It is the fear of the child-self, left over from an old pattern, that says we have to be exactly the same in order to get along.
At the root of over-differentiation there could also be a lack of deep self-acceptance. It's an inner dialogue that goes like this:
"I'll reject you before you can reject me. If you can't accept this part of me then you'll never accept all of me so just keep walking.
I'm afraid you'll reject me for who I am. Worse. I'm afraid we'll get to know each other and regard one another as friends until one day when I tell you something that doesn't align with your likes or beliefs. The look of horror in your eyes will be like a dagger to my soul. A betrayal because I know you'll never consider me the same way again. So instead of giving this connection a go and risk being broken or hurt, I'll just make sure you hate me before we ever begin. Because even though we may agree on 80% of things, that last 20% where you're not exactly like me and can't handle my truth well, that's too much to bear."
This perception is flawed. Sure, in some close relationships, it's understandable to have dealbreakers but, these are internet interactions. We're not being asked to spend every waking moment of every day with these people.
It's human nature to want to be liked and accepted as part of the group. It's also human nature to avoid pain. However, it's hindering our connection when we use too much differentiation as an acceptable way to prevent potential pain.
What are we to do?
I ask that we all take a moment to remember that what we see someone portraying at any one moment in time is only one aspect of who they are. That even if what they're saying is the exact opposite of what we believe, it doesn't automatically make them wrong.
We need to let go of this childish perception of reality that everything has to be black and white and regain the capacity our adult minds have to hold two truths at once. To see both sides. It's not always easy. It is possible, however, to consider where the other person is coming from and see how they feel their version of reality is truth without being disrespectful or hateful.
It's incredibly liberating to have a community of like-minded people around you - ones where you can be yourself, where they get your obsession with flower essences or a certain author. An issue arises when we forget that we are so much more than the things we like, the beliefs we hold, or the causes we stand for. Right now, we're all here having an experience as humans. I think it's safe to say we all want to feel good and do good work in the world. Please, remember that we're all humans the next time we start "othering" someone - whether it's for a health or political belief or their preference for one brand over another.
We don't have to cancel them. And to be honest, we don't even have to hear them out. You can keep on scrolling. But they have a right to say what they want, to present the parts of themselves how they want to.
Maybe instead of thinking we're alone in our own circle, we could zoom out and see that we're in one large Venn diagram. There are a bunch of overlapping circles and we all happen to be in one labeled "human."
We may be different but, we're also the same.
As for my bio, I'm keeping it vague. Come get to know me.