Some Basic Questions

Are you and I different or the same, do you think?




But wouldn’t the world be better off if we were identical? Cooperation, peace, quiet. Don’t those sound good?




All right, then, have it your way — you be you, and I’ll be me. How the heck are we supposed to deal with something as simple as this? There, on the left, is your brain responding to embarrassment; on the right, mine. (Legend: black and blue indicate lower electrical activity in the neocortex of the brain, as measured by an EEG, while yellow and red indicate higher activity.)



Yeah, you got it. You react to embarrassment in a manner that is proportionate. If it’s mildly embarrassing, e.g., you realize after a meeting that you’d forgotten that morning to remove a dry cleaning tag from your pants, you react mildly. If it’s very embarrassing, e.g., someone publishes photos of you having sex on your kitchen island with your best friend’s wife or husband, you get genuinely upset. (You’re sane, in other words.)


Me? I don’t react, and still don’t react, and then finally I go intercontinental ballistic. You know, like this: The world’s coming to an end! My life will never be the same! Why is everyone out to get me? I will never, never stop until I have my ultimate revenge!


(Where are you going with this, ‘Traces’ guy? I know that’s what you’re thinking. Be patient!)


So. At the moment, we’re having this big national “conversation” — ha, ha — about “identity politics” and “political (in)correctness” and such. Supposedly, the “identity politics” of city-dwelling, transgendered, multiracial, tattooed Rastafarians is destroying this Sweet Land of Liberty, with which we have been blessed by God the Father Almighty. Either that, or the White(-Sheet) supremacy of alt-Right rabid rednecks is reaching its bony hand out of the Pit of Despair to drag us all down into the Cesspool of Stupidity.


One or the other.


Now, in what I’m about to say, I’m not claiming that it isn’t important for us to reach a consensus about which of these two is closer to the mark.


It’s just that I think it’d be great if maybe we started with some appreciation of the ways in which we are individually different. No, scratch that. We should start with an embrace of the ways in which we are individually different.


(Still not sure what you’re getting at, ‘Traces’ guy. Roger that, reader.)


Interested in taking that on? Then here’s your assignment for today:


  1. Choose a person you know well.
  2. Select one moment in your day.
  3. In that moment, ask yourself, “How am I thinking / feeling / reacting / behaving in a way that is characteristic of me?”
  4. Then ask yourself, “How would __________ (insert name of person you know well) think / feel / react / behave in this moment?”


Do that, and we’ll revisit this topic very soon.


(And for you teacher’s pets out there, you precocious students, here’s something else to keep you busy until we circle back to this: In that moment you choose to isolate, which of you — you or the other person — would you say is more “at home”? More engaged, that is? Which of you would feel more … competent? Which of you would be likelier to think, “I got this”?)


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