Similarities and Differences

Confucius say: Beware of superficial differences, they may hide deeper similarities.

Corollary: Beware of superficial similarities, they may hide deeper differences.

It’s kind of fascinating, if slightly frustrating: whenever I discuss things with people, I try to draw parallels with other problems in order to illustrate a new/different angle on the problem at hand. Almost invariably, people immediately throw up their hands and shout “no, no, X is totally different”.

Yet I can see similarities.

I’m not trying to claim that my view on these hypothetical topics is better than other people’s, nor that focusing on similarities is always a good thing.

I am, however, astonished that people seem to obstinately refuse to consider similarities in issues that have them. That’s the motivation for the above statement, really.

What gets me is that making a statement such as “X is different” is not worth the time or breath spent on it in most cases. The nature of the universe being complex, you can bet your arse that every two situations you try to compare are different.

And while it’s important to be aware of the differences, lest you make the wrong choices, it is the fundamental principle of learning to apply experiences gained in one situation to a new, subtly (or not so subtly) different one.

So please, don’t waste your breath shouting that two situations are different. They are. You’re right.

Pause instead, and wonder why someone tries to compare them. There may be a lesson in that that can be transferred from one situation to the other.

And then, but only then, please don’t forget to modify the lesson to be transferred to accommodate the differences between them. You’d be wrong not to. But that’s the second step, not the first.