Amplifying Sameness & Damping Difference
Something that triggers me quite a lot is when people unconsciously (and sometimes intentionally) amplify sameness. It’s one of those harmless-seeming but insidious, nearly invisible, unconsciously destructive dynamics that’s way too prevalent in certain flavors of change-making cultures.
What do I mean by ‘Amplifying Sameness’?
- “you said xxx – I think xxx is important because, blah, blah, blah xxx, blah xxx, blah.”
- “I’ve studied xxx and so & so [xxx thought-leader or similar] feels it’s crucial in this way and that way.”
- “And another angle on why xxx matters is. . .”,
- “Oh, that was wonderful – XXX!.. . You were so insightful and wise to comment on xxx. . .”
- You can be certain that in any given group not everyone is in alignment with the first (or even second) opinion expressed, not everyone feels the same way about everything as everyone else.
- Some people will want to take xxx deeper than blanket approval and want to discuss what’s missing or dangerous about xxx, or look at it with more discernment & distinction.
- Others will have a direct resistance to xxx
I know, for the breathless xxx proponents, that can be hard to believe, but that’s the whole point of diversity, we don’t all think alike. Not everyone will fit into the shared-appreciation, mutual-admiration echo-chamber. And people who don’t fit the mold will consequently end up with little to no air-time and made invisible.
How does it work?
- In terms of time
- most of the minutes get consumed by cozy, satisfying, non-threatening sameness.
- less time is available to calmly & carefully explore differences
- In terms of safety
- the longer the sameness goes on, the harder it is to disagree. The less energy given to re-directing the sameness, the clearer it is that the norm is not to differ. To differ becomes unsafe.
- intimacy and openness become less and less possible.
- In terms of cognition
- the more sameness is expressed, the harder it is to remember one’s own clarity around difference – collective attention is pulled toward sameness & difference gets written over – leaving those who differ with a vague discomfort instead of a clear distinction that can be articulated.
- In terms of tension
- the longer sameness goes on and differences are repressed, the more tension builds up inside those who differ, making it harder for them to express themselves gracefully, calmly, compassionately. Those who differ often end up choosing not to speak at all from fear of blowing up, coming across too strongly, and offending others.
- to share difference w/o being invited to differ takes a certain amount of energy.
- Whether that energy becomes explosive or simply consumes one in silence, it usually becomes toxic instead of creating the possibility inherent in gaps.
What about common-ground, coherence & alignment?
In Deep Democracy, one of the main things a facilitator does is surface the difference and surface the resistance, and then make space for it. When that doesn’t happen, you have endless subtle (or overt) power struggles, and energetic blockages. Deep Democracy has a whole wise process around dealing with tensions productively, and I yearn for more communities to develop that skill set.
We don’t get to common ground by one perspective proclaiming it to be so. Common ground is created together by exploring what each perspective is bringing, exploring the gaps, discovering new possibilities together. Amplifying sameness is an attempt to bypass that process and impose one’s own reality as a common truth. It may seem successful on the surface, but it never actually works.
Why does it matter? Why invite conflict?
“The gaps are the place where pure possibility sits” ~Nora Bateson
How this lives in me
In our Social System Mapping Community of Practice
Amplified sameness, paired with dampened difference in contexts meant to be co-creative can trigger strong contempt and cynicism in me. Which adds one more challenging dynamic that I have to manage in myself, along with all the other tensions I experience when amplifying sameness is going on.