Similarity and Difference

I’ve had Kristen’s post called Validation in my head since I read it yesterday morning. Kristen asks herself (and us): “Do I simply search out people who reflect back to me what I want to see in myself? And, if so, is that a bad thing?” She goes on to talk about how she gravitates towards blogs whose general perspective feels familiar, and wonders if this reflects a “preference for a pot unstirred and waters untroubled.”

But I’ve been thinking more about this today, and about the comments, particularly that by BigLittleWolf. It was on my mind when I commented on Kristen’s post: I thought about blogs I read that are “different,” and realized that those that are the most different, the most off-topic, don’t really push my thinking about parenting or identity or presence or love or any of the big questions that roil my brain daily. Yes, I read a bunch of technology blogs, and also some superficial celebrity blogs. Both of these groupings I would call very different, in both topic and worldview, from my own blog. But that very difference opens up a gulf, and in that space the ability to influence my own thinking about my own thorniest personal issues is lost.

In my comment I defended what Kristen worries is a tendency towards validation as something more fundamental. I stand by my overall belief that those who feel “like us” in the blogosphere are probably much more legitimately “like us” than people we meet in real life. In a world where we are represented by words on a page a lot of the superficial identifiers that we use to sort through other people are removed. So when we resonate with another blogger we are, in large part, resonating with a very real and honest part of her. Not, for example, whether she has a kid at the same school or is wearing the same jeans we are.

And so what I’m mulling over now is that in order to really expand our horizons about topics like mothering, does a blog (or a person, or a point of view) require a baseline degree of familiarity? If something is too foreign, don’t we all instinctively dismiss it, some psychological version of graft-versus-host disease? I agree with BLW, in fact, that while there are some similarities in theme and tone among the blogs that I read most passionately and loyally, they are hardly identical. I am sure that those of us who blog about parenting, for example, actually differ quite widely in the ways in which we mother. I’m sure we have different points of view on bedtimes and food and time-outs and appropriate behavior. And none of us is right, by the way. The learning comes from hearing other people talk about why, and how they think about it.

At least for me. I think the most valuable conversations – be they in person or in the blogosphere – are often (not always) with people who are relate-able enough that their view is credible to us, their input valued because we know we respect their opinion and perspective. Of course this respect is earned multiple ways, and similarity to ourselves is neither the only way nor a guarantee of it. The people whose input I esteem the most highly in this world are not all like me; they are not all mothers, not all women, not all like me. They are, universally, intelligent, thoughtful, caring, and deeply engaged in the business of living.

And this is what I look for in blogs I love – in fact in all media that I consume. I am drawn to people whose outlook on the world makes me think, people who are able to spin words into a dazzling gossamer web, people who are honest about their struggles and challenges and weaknesses. I think that having this, ultimately, is the similarity of which Kristen speaks: the willingness to share candid stories, to actively engage in the effort to live more thoughtfully and consciously, and to admit difficulty. If that’s what the blogs I love best have in common, then I can only aspire to call myself similar to that. That’s a community of “sameness” that I would be proud to be a part of.


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5 Comments

  1. Kristen
    Posted December 4, 2009 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, thank you so much for continuing this conversation. The thoughtful comments on my post and your wonderful explication here have helped me reflect further on the potential dilemma of gravitating toward the relate-able.

    Like you, I've mostly concluded that there is enough diversity in the world of shared ideas to justify spending time in a place of resonance. A few of the comments, including yours, helped me see that we each have so many facets of our identities – and, just because a writer is similar on one edge doesn't mean she will be on another. In fact, the point of connection can help us better understand the points of departure.

    I love this part of the blogging enterprise: throwing an inchoate idea out there and getting responses that help create deeper understanding. Thank you again for that.

  2. Aidan Donnelley Rowley
    Posted December 4, 2009 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Ah, sameness and difference. Where to begin? No clue. But you take a commendable crack at this philosophical biggie.

    Here's what I think. In order for you to understand someone, to digest his/her words, you must speak the same language. In blogging, speaking the same language means addressing similar quandaries, airing similar insecurities, asking similar questions.

    Beyond that, we all speak that language (whatever it is) very differently. We weave words in our own distinct patterns, we cook up ideas all our own (even if they are variations on a theme). This is the perfect example. Kristen started a wonderful and important conversation. You picked it up and made it your own. And now I continue the chatter. (Albeit clumsily.)

    Where you see sameness, I see universality. How absolutely magical to stumble around these woods speaking softly only to find that our voices are not so small, but carry, and are heard, and are understood.

    Thanks for yet another "dazzling gossamer web."

  3. Corinne
    Posted December 4, 2009 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I can't remember if I commented on Kristen's post (I'm sorry if I didn't Kristen!) but I think you pretty much nailed what I was thinking of commenting. I have no desire to sit and read a computer journal, just like my husband has no desire to sit and read mommy blogs. Yes, they would challenge us, but in order to challenge, like you all have said, we need that common ground to keep us interested and intrigued. I'm rambling, and need a nap, but you get the idea :)

  4. Launa
    Posted December 6, 2009 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    After reading your post, I went out looking for some blogs that would push my boundaries (I have up until now only really regularly read the blogs of people I know in real life.)

    On the quest, I found a blog that has echoes with yours, but importances differences as well… so see how you like having your cake and eating it too. I found it through my friend Gail's site, which you would also like. In both you will find faith, mothering, identity, purpose, questioning, coping, and moving in and out of joy and despair….

    http://ragamuffindiva.blogspot.com/

    Gail is at http://silvermine.blogspot.com/

  5. BigLittleWolf
    Posted December 7, 2009 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    I think you expressed this beautifully. And to some degree, the sameness is about a willingness – and a drive to question, coupled with a love of words.

    Take out everything else – and that's what I see – regardless of gender, age, marital status, parenting status, job, and so on. I might add that an appreciation for humor (often self-deprecating our a tad outrageous) sits high on my style-preference list.

    Re the foreign quality of something too different. Here's a thought. Art. Many of us who enjoy art begin our understanding and pleasure from what we recognize. The representational. While children might be open enough to fully engage with abstraction, adults frequently cannot. They "don't get it" in part because it is too foreign without being led through, step by step, to see in a different way.

    You don't go from Whistler's Mother to de Kooning's Women or Joseph Albers' bright geometrics in a flash. You may decide you don't like a particular type of art, but you need exposure – a bridge – so various sorts of art don't seem so foreign. Then you can say – yes, I like this or no, not for me.

    I will say that Bruce's Privilege of Parenting blog borders on leading me quite far, quite fast into foreign territory. Not every post, not always. Sometimes there are mileposts I recognize (Tolstoy, or others) – certainly not for everyone – but there's a lot of stretching when I read him, and then I re-read because that mental gymnastic into not-quite-too-foreign territory really makes me work my brain. As a person and a parent.

    I suspect we could all continue to lead each other, to extend our "gossamer web" as you so elegantly put it – into increasingly foreign territory which would teach us.

    I consider all of you a remarkable "find" in this world of too little attention to the necessity – and pleasure – of the opening mind.