The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Barnes' Heuristic

You'll notice a bit of conversation about my contention that men and women are basically the same--or that the differences are "teeny."  Yep.  Now, obviously, one could fill shelves with the differences, or shelves with the similarities.  It's very much a "Is the glass half-empty" thing, where the answer says more about the answerer than the situation.  So let me address that directly, since one of the major purposes of this blog is to give people an honest view into what happens if you apply the theoretical model I'm proposing to life itself.
The human mind tends to work in two basic ways (viewed from one perspective): to seek similarities, and to seek differences.  In human interactions, seeking similarities always seems to me to unite, while seeking differences divides.  Also, the natural human tendency to try to hog all the good stuff, especially characteristics, for whatever "your" tribe happens to be (male, female, gay, straight, black, white, American, British, whatever) makes this particularly dangerous.  I've known too many people who were told in youth that their group was superior.  They might meet many people who apparently violated that rule, but under stress they revert right back to their childhood teaching. 
I see no weakness in offering others the exact same humanity that I claim for myself.  Master martial artists often feel enormous love for their opponents--it does not weaken their ability to kill in defense of their tribe.  And I see great disadvantages for dwelling on the differences--including underestimating people who are worthy of respect.  So I tend to start by assuming similarity, and then move outward from there to the differences, rather than the other way around.  This is just the way I think, and it works for me, and allows me a great deal of consistency as well as rapid and (my my estimation) accurate judgment of people and situations, even in contexts of violent stress.
So when I look at black and white, American and "foreign", gay and straight, males and females, I concentrate on the vast number of things they have in common.  Dealing with women as if they want the same basic things men want has worked rather well for me (he said modestly).  Some of the people who disagree with me on this--including some who have posted here, are among those I respect most in the world, so I don't think its the only way.  But it honestly works for me.


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