Greatness: Irreconcilable Differences

There’s this proposition that…err…proposes… that all Men are created equal. I am dedicated to this proposition. Now, when, in the course of human events….

Beh. Whatever. Here’s the point: every person has within him the ability to become anything any other person can become. Yes, that includes Wolverine, but if you really think about it, really, would you actually want to be Wolverine? Or Wolverine’s wife, ladies? Sheesh. No, no you wouldn’t.

But that’s beside the point. Every person has within him the ability to become anything any other person can become. And, as we have seen in history and legend, a person can become some pretty damn impressive things.

More importantly, people become pretty impressive, over the course of time. Here’s a thing: two people can do more than one person can. Again, more importantly, two people working together can do more than two persons working individually can. That’s an important distinction. The very foundation of all Society, all Community, all Civilization, is that a group of people banding together becomes more than just the sum of its parts.

There’s a reason for this. While every person has within him the ability to become anything any other person can become, most don’t. That is, we all take our beginning, our infinite possibility, and through environment, education, training, and choices, we all tend to become somethings unique. When we pool our resources, then, those who have trained for physical strength can offer their physical strength to the community. Those who have trained for mental prowess can offer their mental prowess to the community. And lazy bastards with a knack for spelling can get a surprisingly high GPA pursuing an English Major. Har har.

But I’m working my way toward a point, here. Gar, and it’s going to sacharrine, so there’s your fair warning. It’s the differences between people that make communities stronger than collections. It’s the diversity of a community’s membership that provides the community’s strength.

I think this is one of the reasons families work so well. Bruce and I have discussed the…unfairness of the way families work. That is, without choice, without apparent reason, by an accident of genetics you are irrevocably tied to a particular group of people. Nothing you can do in your life can change who your family is. However, families remain an incredibly successful and powerful social structure. I think the “accident of genetics” is a very important reason for this.

Friendship communities, and even professional communities, will tend to bind together because of shared traits. Naturally, there is a significant degree of deviation from person to person even within a similarity-based community, but within a family you’re going to get a significantly greater degree of divergence of interests and specializations. The family bond itself binds these divergent elements together, and allows them to become the sort of successful, greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts community I’m talking about.

So. That explains families, but we really do have little control over the shape and membership of our family, so through life we create other communities around us — we bind ourselves to other folks, adding our resources to theirs (and theirs to ours) and all of us growing together.

And here’s how relationships work (from a pragmatic standpoint): Similarities create the bond that keeps a community together. Differences create the strengths that make a community effective.

Remember what I said earlier, that two people working together are stronger than the same two people working individually? This is only true inasmuch as there are differences between them. Two people, perfectly identical in ability and disposition, would work as well apart as together. There are some flaws with that claim, but on close consideration I think it really holds. The significance of a relationship comes from its diversity.

What, then, is a marriage, but a constructed family bond? That is, the whole point of a marriage, as far as I can see, is to create a community of two bound together for the sake of becoming greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts. There’s the strong force and the weak force, though. The very thing that lends significance to the relationship (difference) creates a constant pressure forcing the people apart. It takes something stronger than that to bind them together, so that the individuals can act as a community. In blood-relationships, it’s the genetic bond that overcomes the repulsive force. In made friendships, it’s similarities (and often these similarities have to be so overwhelming as to practically smother the differences, limiting the ultimate effectiveness of the relationship).

I can’t quite seem to get to my punchline here. It sounds something like this: “irreconcilable differences are what make a marriage worth having.” I’m not trying to be trite. Sincerely, if a couple could reconcile its differences, it would cease to matter as a couple. It is the difference between who you are, and who I am, that makes us, as a couple better than just a couple of people.

That goes beyond marriage, obviously, but marriage is the most powerful illustration of this basic core of all human relationship. Marriage is the idea that a custom, a ritual, and a vow can create a strong enough tie to overwhelm that repulsive force. There are, naturally, other elements at play, but in the end, it is staying together that makes a marriage work. Every relationship is constantly under pressure to fly apart. Always. All the time. Staying together is the ultimate, constant challenge of any relationship, and it’s the only thing that makes the relationship matter at all.