Reality Check: More Alike Than Different

In his bestseller, “All Things Being Equal,” author John Mighton proposes that widespread math competence could be the key to a better, more just world. What’s your reaction to that? I’m guessing that it might be anywhere from, “Yes, obviously!” to “You have to be kidding me!”
The question of whether math is, or is not, the route to making everything better may have never crossed your mind, nor might it seem relevant to our everyday lives. But there’s a comment in Mighton’s book that I found particularly thought-provoking and I think that you might find it interesting too.
On the topic of learning styles—that is, whether different people need to be taught in different ways—Mighton refers to a guiding principle by Daniel Willingham. The principle is: “Students are more alike than different.”
If you have any connection to education, then you likely have opinions about learning styles. My discussion here isn’t so much about learning, but about this broader point: although each of us is unique, we are also very much alike.
For example, according to Dr. Wm. Glasser’s Choice Theory, we all have five basic needs. They’re the same for everyone: security, freedom, power, fun, love/belonging. However, we have those needs to differing degrees and we attempt to satisfy them in different ways.
Thus we are all alike, yet each person is unique. Are we more alike than different? Does it matter?
Humans have always had disputes. Right now, differences in beliefs are resulting in some pretty harsh discussions. There are even questions about whether we should tolerate people with whom we do not agree.
There are circles where it seems acceptable to call someone derogatory names if they don’t believe what we believe. Perhaps this tendency—where “others” are viewed with disdain or mockery rather than with respect—is worsened by social media.
But we have a choice as to how we approach each other. Do we want to choose an approach that focuses on how we are alike? Or on how we differ?
Sadly, some people benefit when we are divided, when we dislike each other and are occupied by quarrelling. Disagreement makes for drama and exciting news stories. When differences are taken to the extreme, they can distract us from other issues that matter.
People do not, and will not, agree on everything. We come to our beliefs through a variety of routes—our upbringing, education, influences, fears, hopes, and more. We are unique. It’s unlikely that we will ever come across someone who believes exactly what we believe.
Without perfect agreement, can we possibly get along? I think yes. Good, longstanding relationships exist among people who don’t totally agree with each other. Those are relationships where people can see multiple sides to a story. People can choose to agree to disagree on an issue without throwing away the entire relationship.
We may have far more in common with those with whom we disagree than we think. We’ll never find out, however, if we close our ears and apply a derogatory label the moment someone says something that we don’t like.
Is it better to magnify our differences and then fight about them? Or is it better to look for where we agree and build on that?

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