If We Were Just Two People

It is astounding to think that our fellow humans think, feel, hope, dream, pine and suffer. It is not something we can easily internalize, however familiar we are with it—in my own experience, only I do these things.

We spend a great deal of time trying to differentiate ourselves from one another. In many ways, we cannot help but perceive ourselves as unique. The opinions we hold on the subjects of purpose, meaning, life and death are no exception to this rule, and they divide us in ways that few others can. Yet even in a room where people have come together precisely because of their beliefs on these matters, the revelation often strikes me—that all of us are essentially the same.

A few words are often enough. I have to go. My stomach hurts. We can talk about our differences all day, but at the curtain call, this charade will stop because I need to sleep now.

The knowledge that other people are truly alive is the window to compassion. It is the foundation of the golden rule. For all the attention this concept gets from religion, however, not all aspects of it are easily reconciled. To those who cannot fathom it, I am unable to describe the method by which one believes in a God who treats some of us differently than others. I do not know how I sustain the behaviours that distinguish me from others, if I am so much like them. How can I go on believing that actions or beliefs have the power to make me any more, or less, like everyone else? How can I imagine that, in the content of my actions, I might raise myself above a single living person? An obvious answer has not occurred to me, save for one possibility: that the only differences that mean anything are the ones that emerge from inherently similar sources.

It means something for me to act differently than you, because I know that you, being so similar to me, have the potential to act as I do. Differences borne out of inherent dissimilarity are attributed the alien nature of the foreign thing. Differences between you and me are within the realm of what we are permitted to discuss. They are fair game.

I have often felt cognitive dissonance when spending time with people who I fancy myself different from in my principles or my actions. But I should not feel this way, because I should never have expected anything else. Our common humanity does not render our disparate interpretations of the truth meaningless—in fact, the former is the only thing that gives value to the latter.

One day, sitting at a table where religion had more than once been the topic of conversation, I had a gem of truth said to me: “If we were just two people talking about this, it would be different.” Presumably, it would be different than this feeling—as if an envoy from one species were conducting a diplomatic meeting with that of another. I opened my mouth to say “we are,” but the words just never came out.

These are not my ideas; these are not my deeds. It is not I who will be right; it is not you who will be wrong. These are the great and immovable things of the world, and I run my fingers along them like an awestruck child in the finest museum.


One Response to “Symmetry”

  1. I love this more than I can say. I’m going to tuck the last paragraph away as a quotable somewhere.

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