You are not that unique. And that’s a good thing.
‘There is very little difference between one man and another; but what little there is, is very important.’ — William James
The desire to be seen as unique is one of the defining features of our hyper-connected world. Whoever is clued into the game wants to be seen as the OG, the real deal, the One. In a culture that emphasizes individuality, to be called a clone is the worst epithet to give to somebody.
However, social media has not given birth to this belief about our uniqueness, it has only amplified it. The tendency to view our own experiences as something special has always been there in us. Since only we have privileged access to our thoughts and emotions, we easily make the leap to imagining we truly are one-of-a-kind.
But as marketers, politicians and anthropologists will tell you, we all are more alike than we care to admit. Most of our traits lie on a bell-shaped curve, and unless we’re outliers, most of us dwell in the bulgy part of that curve. Statistics, as distasteful it might seem to most people, does apply to many aspects of our glorious, unique lives. Even though we can tell ourselves we’re special, an impassioned alien will find it easy to analyse us like data points on an excel sheet.
That might sound like an overly cynical view, but I think sameness actually has great power. Knowing that we’re not that different from one another lets us peek into the minds and hearts of our fellow homo sapiens. When we’re wedded to the idea of uniqueness, it’s easy to assume that our beliefs are not widely shared. While that’s a reasonable assumption to make, it also prevents us from pursuing certain threads of discovery.
If you are an artist, knowing you are just like everyone else is a great boon because people want something they can relate to. Even science fiction—where laws of physics can be violated with impunity—stays true to eternal human themes like fear, jealousy, love, sadness, and transcendence.
Similarly, if you’re an entrepreneur, your own problems are a great way to start thinking about what your intended customers will buy. While you have to still test your silly/twisted ideas, you’re at least not starting from a blank page. If you’ve lived in the same communities, gone to the same public schools, worked at similar companies, you have a wealth of insight into what drives other people like you. And that is all a thriving business needs to care about.
Paradoxically, to find things that unite us in our struggle we must go deep within ourselves. At a superficial level, we might feel different but when we go below our individual experiences, similar themes begin to merge. As Joseph Campbell said:
‘Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths’.
Most importantly, the concept of sameness can hopefully bring some semblance of sanity back to our fragmented world. Increasingly, we are beginning to notice our differences more than our similarities. This is quite a shame because despite or political differences, you and your neighbour have far more in common than you think.
So maybe let’s begin to embrace our sameness rather than downplay it. Finding our own unique niche is a worthy quest to go on, but we must remember that every achievement becomes worth it because we get to share it with others.