If we are members of a dominant majority in a diverse and heterogeneous society, do we extend the olive branch of inclusion to others based on how much and what kinds of similarity we can recognize in them? Do we interpret inclusion as a form of conditional love? The more alike others are to us, the more we like or love them; the less similar they are to us, the less inclined we are to accept them?
In addition, do we publicize statements like, “There is more that unites us than divides us.” Yet, the values, beliefs, and practices we claim can unite us are the ones that we subscribe to and that we have selected for everyone – dominant and non-dominant alike – to uphold. They are not the ones individuals of minority status subscribe to in the privacy of their homes or validate in public for reasons of self-preservation.
Emphasizing sameness is an effective strategy in intercultural communication when cultural similarities are present and can be tapped into. It is less effective, however, when there are no or less relevant cultural similarities to draw upon. Moreover, emphasizing sameness tends to create a binary and hierarchy between cultural similarities and cultural differences. Cultural similarities are seen as positive and superior to cultural differences; cultural differences are seen as negative and inferior.
In reality, cultural differences are just as important and valuable as cultural similarities and should not be seen as a barrier to appropriate intercultural communication. The way to bridge cultural differences is to develop a deep understanding of them in order to accept and adapt to them. There is no need to set up a competition between these phenomena to create an inclusive and equitable society. Emphasizing sameness is a stepping stone in the journey of intercultural competence development; it is not the end game.
If you consider yourself a member of the dominant majority, what similarities between yourself and others are you emphasizing on a regular basis? What differences are you minimizing?
What groups do you consistently join and support that maintain the dominance of your values and expect compliance to those values by others who are in the minority?
What balance are you trying to achieve between valuing and respecting both cultural differences and similarities between yourself and others?