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People like me – or not: Identifying with others - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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October 7th, 2011


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02:57 am - People like me – or not: Identifying with others
I recently talked with my friend Aaron about many things, and the conversation wandered into politics and the idea that many people vote for people who they consider to be in many ways similar to them and to have a fair amount in common with them. I consider this a problem, because I would vastly prefer people to vote for candidates who hold positions they agree with. Aaron actually thought the idea of individuals voting for candidates who seemed to have a lot in common with them made sense, and from there we discovered that Aaron consider most people to have a fair amount in common with him, while I most definitely do not.

That got me thinking about my feelings on this matter. I have always assumed that my interests, opinions, and experiences were fairly atypical and while there were obviously (and thankfully) people who shared many or even most of them, they were in the distinct minority, and that most people have little in common with me. This in no ways means that I consider people different from me to be inferior in any way, merely different. I very much prefer to associate with people like myself (progressive and seriously geeky SF&F fans, likely pretty much everyone reading this :)

As a result, unless given evidence otherwise (such as meeting someone at an otherkin gathering or perhaps a gaming or SF convention), I assume that people I meet have little in common with me and do not share my interests, experiences, or ideas. It's obvious to me that almost everyone wants the basic necessities of life like adequate food and housing, as well as people who care about them, but beyond that, I do not assume people's wants, interests, or desires have much to do with mine. The fact that there is clearly a social mainstream where many people exists if obvious, but I've never been certain if most people actually want the same things or if the clear social and economic rewards for being part of the social mainstream cause many or even most people who belong to it to pretend to share the appropriate attitudes and desires.

What I don't know is if most people, including most people reading this, look at random strangers and see someone who is likely to share a lot in common with them, or if (like me) they see a person whose happiness, wishes, desires, and believes likely have little in common with mine. I rather suspect that this belief is responsible for me arranging my life so that I largely only have to deal in person with people quite like me. In thinking more about this, I realized that when interacting with various random cross-sections of humanity, such as when shopping for groceries or suchlike, I feel quite removed from other people. In vivid contrast, despite being an introvert who needs a fair amount of time alone, my friend Aaron is both a performer and a teacher and enjoys meeting and interacting with strangers. As part of this, I rarely identify with other people that I encounter or mentally put myself in their place (except in extreme circumstances, such as ones where someone is in pain, where it is obvious that I'd feel the same way in the same situation), while Aaron mentioned that he habitually sees himself in other people when he watches or interacts with them. Thinking about this makes me wonder how common my or Aaron's attitude is. Thus a poll.

Poll #1784865 Do you consider strangers or random people to be similar to or different from you?

Do you assume most people

have a fair amount in common with you and you identify with them easily
3(9.1%)
have little in common with you and you rarely identify with them
11(33.3%)
may or may not be like you and you may or may not identify with them. You require more information before either idea occurs to you
13(39.4%)
Other (please explain below)
6(18.2%)

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(16 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:pendelook
Date:October 7th, 2011 10:38 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I mostly do the same thing you do.
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From:erelin
Date:October 7th, 2011 03:36 pm (UTC)
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I would say the first, but not the second: we are probably quite similar (have a lot in common) but I don't identify with them easily.

On the whole, a third of my day is spent sleeping, roughly an hour or two is spent eating and bathing, and I require a job that will eat up some of the remainder to possess the basic necessities of life. I find that friends make my life better, as does having people who I am close to. We share similar biology and neurology, and we each have likely had to deal with pains, pleasures, and experiences that are roughly akin to each other. Further, while we may have different experiences in said culture, we both likely grew up in a similar culture and I have found that, even among people from vastly different backgrounds (having worked with people born everywhere from Iraq to Russia to South Africa) that we are likely to share at least some common experiences.

If I had to put a number on it, I am actually well over 99% sure that I share at least 3-4 large-scale life experiences with any given person I am likely to encounter on a daily basis, as well as a whole host of minor experiences. That's quite a lot of commonality, in my book.

But I wouldn't say that I "identify" with them. It is also clear that I have many distinct differences from most people I meet. I meet few people who are quite nearly like me, and for those I do, we are often at different developmental levels on the paths we are choosing. Of those I do end up meeting, many are likely to diverge from me in non-trivial ways that I neither understand nor identify with. The differences between me and another given person, (which, after a quick internal check, I estimate at around 45%) will create large differences in our experiences, our values, and the actions we choose on a day-to-day basis.

To put it more simply, while I have the sufficient condition of believing in similarity, I lack the necessary condition of identifying with them easily.
[User Picture]
From:amberite
Date:October 17th, 2011 07:38 am (UTC)
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Yes, this!
[User Picture]
From:edwarddain
Date:October 7th, 2011 04:46 pm (UTC)
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This may have to do with my profession, but it certainly existed before I went into it. But I don't really assume that I have much in common with people - but I still firmly believe and do identify with them - because I will identify with emotional states and process just as much as I will identify with labels and identity.

D.
[User Picture]
From:siderea
Date:October 8th, 2011 06:11 am (UTC)
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Oh, hey, this convenient comment obviates my need to explain my "Other" choice. Yes, this.

ETA: I would add that I am keenly aware of how much a mutant even among mutants I am, and never particularly expect any random person to be like or even comprehend me at all. I find people fascinating. It is curiosity, pure stick-the-fork-in-the-light-socket curiosity, about the human experience which motivates my interest in my fellow humans. While they aren't going to understand me, at this point, I stand a good chance of understanding them, and to whatever extent I'm willing to build 95% of the bridge, we can relate, if they're so minded.


Edited at 2011-10-08 06:20 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:lupagreenwolf
Date:October 7th, 2011 07:52 pm (UTC)
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When I was younger, I had a hard time not separating myself out from anyone who wasn't like me. A lot of it was a defense gained from being severely bullied for over a decade as a child at the same time I was isolated with no real friends and no one who shared my interests.

Since then, though, I've found that this sort of separation does little to help the problems that I want to help improve. A homeless addict with a long history of criminal convictions and a totally different socioeconomic background from mine may not seem like they have much in common with me, and perhaps they don't. But if I were to only primarily be around people who were like me, I'd miss the opportunity to connect with this person and empathize with them, to learn more about their experience, and if possible collaborate with them to help them improve their life.

And honestly, yes, one of the most personally risky things I've had to do is to reach out to people not like me; it was a scary challenge for me, and still is to an extent. But that's why my internship was so good for me--it immersed me into a situation where my clientele was really diverse and mostly not like me in a lot of ways. I learned that empathy doesn't just happen with people where it's easy and we know we're on the same wavelength, but also where I have to look a little harder to find that place where I start seeing that person as a whole, complete individual with a series of stories and ideas and dreams.
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From:slothman
Date:October 7th, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC)
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I know from long experience that I don’t have much in common with most people, but the only way to find out is to inquire. This can be done passively (e.g. by carrying books around that will catch the attention of fellow bibliophiles) or actively (complimenting someone on something I like).
[User Picture]
From:heronheart
Date:October 8th, 2011 03:08 am (UTC)
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"Everybody seems normal until you get to know them."

I tend to view politics and hobbies as a fairly thin veneer over the basic humanness and existential angst which everybody in this messed up society pretty much shares.

[User Picture]
From:aki_dreaming
Date:October 8th, 2011 01:54 pm (UTC)
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I approach people with the attitude that we will have SOMETHING in common. I'm rarely disappointed. However, I'm both old enough and weird enough to know that there is no one just like me. I don't expect it, and I'm not surprised if I don't get it.
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From:moominmuppet
Date:October 9th, 2011 01:14 am (UTC)
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*nod* That's about right for me, too.

Best test of this is spending a lot of time on public transit, and not sending out the social cues to get people to ignore me. I tend to think people are likely to have a number of beliefs and interests that are different than mine (it's true that I consider myself a statistical outlier in terms of beliefs/views/interests), but that generally there is some level of common humanity upon which we can connect. My experience with random RTA-based conversation with strangers seems to mostly bear this out.
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From:xuenay
Date:October 9th, 2011 08:37 am (UTC)
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This sounds about right.
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From:xuenay
Date:October 9th, 2011 08:39 am (UTC)
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politics and the idea that many people vote for people who they consider to be in many ways similar to them and to have a fair amount in common with them.

Related: Politics Isn't About Policy.
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From:rjgrady
Date:October 11th, 2011 04:44 pm (UTC)
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I think I share a lot intrinsically with people, but I am so eccentric and demographically in the minority that it is almost a given that in a social setting, I would likely be rejected outright for a number of salient reasons if I outed myself. I generally consider myself the beginning of a new phase of humanity, one which has transcended such atavisms as watching sports commentary or eating Big Macs. In general, I like people more than they like me, and understanding this, I tend to cloak myself from others. This leads to some feelings of loneliness.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:October 12th, 2011 01:13 am (UTC)
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Until I was in my thirties, I isolated myself from the mainstream. As a child, I was hated by many of my peers due to my abysmal social skills, and I hated them right back. After college, I exclusively associated with pagans, Thelemites and Otherkin. I kept to myself at work, assuming I had nothing in common with mainstream people and that they would dislike me.

In my current job, everyone is very nice to me. I have still not turned into a typical person with good social skills, but people still like me anyway. Based on this experience, I think that I have more in common with others than I realized.
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From:china_shop
Date:October 17th, 2011 02:19 am (UTC)
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Belatedly replying to this. I'm with edwarddain and siderea.

I will happily converse with people I have little in common with (including people at the gym, in shops, in service industries, at bus stops, etc) because we share the human condition, the wider context and... feelings. It's all small talk (the weather, the news event of the moment, random sympathy and/or compliments), but it's still connection at some level, and I like to think it makes the world a slightly better place.

That said, I tend to be friends with people who are like me in ways that are important to me (shared politics and values).
[User Picture]
From:mlerules
Date:November 2nd, 2011 10:34 pm (UTC)
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I generally will strike up conversations w/anybody I meet and/or are around. When I meet new-to-me folks, I don't particularly pay a lot of attention to whether I identify w/them and/or necessarily what we have in common (assuming it's a situation where that's not readily apparent either from where we are (e.g., con, playspace, &c.) or who we're with/meeting through). I focus more on what I can learn from this new-to-me person, where this person's passion takes 'em, how my life can be expanded/deepened/enriched by interacting w/them. It's far less a matter of similar vs. different and far more a matter of what more can I learn/experience.

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