Now, I don’t know who is reading this: you could be different from me. Presumably you at least speak English, but that may be where our similarities end! For the sake of simplicity, however, I will refer to my reader and myself as an “us”, so strap in, because we’re in this together whether you like it or not.

The people who are different from us are often perceived as threatening. Different means unknown, and fear and the unknown go together like jam on toast. Some people don’t like jam on toast; those people are different and therefore threatening.

I’ve got my eye on you…

The thing is, harm can come from anyone. People who are different may be spookily unknown, but people who are the same as us can be just as, if not more, dangerous. Sexual assault is predominantly perpetrated by someone who is familiar to the victim, and intimate partner violence, which makes up a quarter of reported violent crimes, requires sameness as people who are in relationships often have similar backgrounds and perceptions of the world.

Difference is ultimately irrelevant to someone’s predilection toward causing harm. If I were to assume that the people who are like me are not dangerous, then I have to do some serious self-reflection about whether or not I am fundamentally harmless. If I am, huzzah! But if I am belligerent, mistrustful, aggressive or maybe I just condone violence against those who are different from me, then it is not difference that is the threat, but sameness.

Take a good, long look

It could be argued that fear of the unknown, and aggressiveness against it as a defense mechanism, is basic human nature, and maybe it is. Which means, in fact, that sameness is the problem, since all those scary people who do things differently from us are only a threat if they follow our all-to-human pattern of aggression toward difference. Luckily, we can socialize ourselves away from this mutually-assured destruction. Civilization itself is a means of overcoming human nature, so it is not unprecedented.

Exposure to and the embracing of the different is literally the only way to grow. New ideas, different skill levels, different approaches to a problem: these do not arise under familiar circumstances. If someone has a different way of connecting to their spirituality, or a different way of understanding gender, or any number of different ways of being different, then this is an opportunity to learn. Difference isn’t a threat, it is an opportunity every time.

The threat comes from those who want everybody to be the same.