Commonality and Difference: The Great Ecology

I was reflecting on an event that we recently facilitated as part of a staff retreat for an office at a local college.  It was a fabulous group of individuals with a great energy about them.  But there was a particular mement in the session that stirred some thoughts in me in regards to the interaction between commonality and difference.  More specifically, it struck me ragarding the status of the uncommon, and how the uncommon tends to be undervalued and underestimated.  See, the uncommon is mysterious.  It is unknown, at least in part if not completely, by the very fact that it is not commonplace.  It is not something that is regularly encountered or experienced.  For some, there may be a faint recognition, many it will be completely foreign, and for few it will embody identity and experience.

But, for this reason then, for the majority of people, the role or function of the uncommon is itself unknown.  This seems statement seems self-evident, but I found it to hold significant meaning as I reflected because what it really means is that the very potentiality of the uncommon is often completely overlooked.  This makes sense.  If I don’t know what a certain tool does and how to use it, it appears to be useless for nothing else but a paperweight.  But when someone finally shows me how to use it, and I realize how much easier it make a particular task, I say, “Well why didn’t you tell me sooner!”  The point is, the less that is common to me, the less I am able to perceive the worth and value that something, or someone holds.  The more often this happens, the more often that the potentiality of that thing, the unique contribution that it can make goes untapped.

But why is that thing so uncommon?  Because it is so different, not only from us, but from anything that we have experienced.  But then, the question is, how do we make something uncommon?  How do we increase commonality?  With interaction.  The more that we interact with things, the more that is within our experience.  But the experience of one human is so finite.  However, in our own interactions with each other, we also exchange experience and, in a way, complement the collected experience of each other.  Thus, it is with greater interaction and genuine experience, and sharing of experience that perhaps we increase our commonality.  And, as this interaction increases so does our ability to imagine outside of our own experience – to project into the uncommon with an understanding based on our ability to perceive beyond our own experience and understanding – because we become more increasingly receptive and aware of our encounters with the uncommon.

In some spheres one thing that is commonplace is completely and wholey out-of-place in another.  A contractor’s jackhammer, while completely commonplace and understood in constructing a house, would be completely foreign and seemingly lacking in utility during a symphonic concert.  But is there a way that a jackhammer could contribute to the symphony.  Check out a group called Recyled Percussion if you want to know the answer to this question.  The point that was reinforced to me was simply that, in order to recognize the value of something that is different or uncommon, you need only to look for the moments where your assumptions, based on what is common to you, are turned on their head, and lavish them!

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