You Are Here

A handy guide to knowing where you are


A couple of days ago I watched the video of Elliot Rodger explaining why, and how, he was going to go on a killing spree in Santa Barbara. A few hours later I stumbled across an old picture of Nazis picking flowers. I’m not sure why, but both the video and that picture struck me as extremely… human.

I don’t endorse what they did. They were murderers, but they were human. In the video, I saw a lonely kid who didn’t understand healthy ways to process his hurt. In the picture, I saw a few grown men picking flowers for their wives, whom they loved and cared for. Maybe that’s not what they were doing, but both caused me to think about myself and how we label each other.

That seems about right, but is it that cut and dry for everyone? Is there a distinct line between the two? No, I don’t think so. I think the the insane/sane distinction looks more like a spectrum.

Yeah, that’s better… I think. But what about someone like Albert Einstein. He was kind of crazy, but also wicked smart. Where does he belong on the spectrum? Oh, maybe there’s an axis for intelligence, like this.

Ok, hmmm… what about savants with autism? What about people that might not be super smart but are empathic, selfless, and do crazy awesome things with their lives? Where would Mother Theresa fit on that spectrum?

Crap, this is getting too complicated, but I need to know where I fit in, so let’s start with something more simple.

Ok, that’s nice. Cut and dry. You are either male or female. My incessant need to categorize and label the things around me is starting to feel somewhat satisfied.

Oh, wait a second. When we say gender, are we talking about anatomy? Or, gender identification? Sexual preference? Hmm, let’s keep things super simple… anatomy, cool?

Not cool. One percent of children born exhibit some degree of sexual ambiguity with their anatomy. Ok, so it turns out gender is a spectrum also!

Well then. This isn’t quite as simple as I imagined. You know what, screw it, maybe knowing where you are in the world looks more like this.

Our need to classify and label things is actually a pretty recent phenomenon which started during the scientific revolution in the 18th century. Before that, we still divided ourselves though, usually over land borders or wealth inequalities. It seems that the more advanced we get as a society, the more data we have to further segregate ourselves from each other.

Maybe the problem isn’t our classifications systems and newfound data. Maybe the problem is us.

It’s so easy to dismiss others as not like me, but I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where we went to extreme lengths to understand each other better, especially those who are different. It would be hard and uncomfortable, but probably worth it.

Maybe if we better understood each other, we could celebrate our differences without fighting over them.

Next time you see that crazy homeless person, or that extremist politician, or that murderer… try to stop for a few seconds and think about the ways in which you might be alike. I think you’ll find yourself more open and understanding by simply taking a few seconds to try and identify better with others.

All 7 billion of us share this little tiny space in the universe. Relatively speaking, we are a lot more alike than we are different, so maybe it’s time we try and start acting like it.