Focus on What We Share, Not Our Differences

This Labor Day weekend, I read Sebastian Junger’s new book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

The book’s central idea is that we have lost our tribal connection, our opportunity (willingness?) to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others, and that loss has negative psychological impacts. The idea and Junger’s argument in support of it are fascinating. I highly recommend the book.

One point that stuck with me is that our veneration of veterans and active service members might be hindering their reintegration into society. Junger writes about how “shared public meaning” of a war helps reduce the alienation soldiers feel when they return home by providing a context for their sacrifice that is acknowledged by most of the public. He goes on to say that the constant thanking of veterans and service members and the recognition they receive at large sporting events does not develop “shared public meaning,” but may further alienate those who served.

Junger writes, “These token acts only deepen the chasm between the military and civilian population by highlighting the fact that some people serve their country but the vast majority don’t.”

Junger also points out that the American public is disconnected not only from the military but also from other jobs that directly support our culture of consumption, including farming.

Farming is like any other job only you punch in at age 5 and never punch out.

Do messages like this help connect people with farming or further widen the disconnect?

As I read that, I was reminded of Facebook posts that read, “Farming is like any other job, only you punch in at age 5 and never punch out,” or “During harvest farmers give up meals at their table, so we can have meals at ours.” Given Junger’s argument, do posts messages like those above help connect the public to agriculture or further widen the gap?

I think it’s the latter. If we want to reconnect consumers and producers, service members and those they protected, or those who have become alienated in our communities, we need to focus on what we share, not on our differences.

Comments

  1. Interesting! Bob,I agree with the recommendation to shift focus to what we share. Another way to say that is to focus on what we have in common. That is a great way to feel connected to those around us. We may not become best friends, but we do have a better chance of understanding one another.

    • Thanks for your comment, Virginia. One of my favorite quotes is from Aaron Doering, “Community is formed at the point where our stories intersect.”

  2. This is great Bob – really appreciate your thoughts and comments on how we define community in Extension (no… how we ACTUALLY define community by the work we do and how we respond to needs, audiences, etc.) I agree with you that we need to focus on our similarities rather than our differences. Do you think this also applies to niche audiences? For example, the Ed Tech Learning Network targets a specific, niche audience of those who enjoy integrating technology into their work and also are excited to “work differently” (to borrow your phrase). How to we connect communities or groups of individuals while also reaching those we serve best? I think the EdTechLN example can be applied to many other niche audiences Extension serves.

    • Thanks for the comment and question, Jamie. I think within niche communities of interest or communities of practice, connecting around what we have in common can draw the community together. In “Connecting to Change the World,” https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NASJ4I8, the authors talk about the need to “increase the bandwidth of information people have about each other, it’s quantity, quality and diversity.” This builds trust between members of a community, which can lead to learning and collaboration. It gets tricky when you are looking to connect with people outside of a niche community who don’t necessarily share the interests or principles that hold the community together. I still think focusing on what we have in common is the right starting point. If we want to engage environmentalists and ag producers in finding a shared solution to water issues in a region, we have to start by establishing trust (increase the bandwidth of information – it’s quantity, quality and diversity). That means we need to tell each other our stories; our honest, deep stories (more on deep story here, http://www.vox.com/2016/9/6/12803636/arlie-hochschild-strangers-land-louisiana-trump). That’s how we can find out what we have in common and build trust. If we can then find a common goal or principle (e.g., we all care about having clean drinking water), we can begin to learn from each other by exploring our differences, but we have to trust each other first.