Why are big differences easier to embrace?

Who is easier for you to accept?

Someone who believes an entirely different concept from your own or someone whose view differs only slightly from your own?

I ask that question because I often find it harder to accept the latter.

Take for instance my teenage son. On the subject of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, our views differ somewhat.

“Who do you think shot President Kennedy?” he recently asked.

“Lee Harvey Oswald,” I said, with all the certainty of someone acing his history finals.

“Nope,” he said, with the certainty of the teacher grading my final. And from there he recited a composite version of the conspiracy theory.

But as he tried to discuss it, I quickly lost patience. “You’re reciting the same old garbage I’ve heard all my life!” I said.

Now, applying my opening question: My son and I believe the same basic thing, so why is it so difficult for me to entertain a different view of the same event? Why do I look at my son as if he’s joined a cult?

The whole thing reminds me how we often have less patience with those in subgroups of our own cultural families than we have for people who’ve taken an entirely different path.

In other words, it’s often easier to study a tribe in National Geographic than it is to understand a T-shirted man in our own country holding a beer outside his trailer home espousing the bombing of everything communist.

Why is this true? Why do some people have less patience with “Right Wing Evangelicals” than they do with Muslim clerics? Why do we have so many problems with people in our opposite political party, though we share the same political system?

I’m like this when it comes to different denominations within Christianity. Take for instance Charismatic groups. Like them, I believe in the Holy Spirit, but when they bring faith healing into the hospital, I cringe as if they are Martians. Yet, I’m fascinated watching an American Indian employ healing remedies at the bedside.

Why is it easier to accept people whose views differ drastically from my own than to accept someone whose views differ only slightly?

I believe it has to do with how we see our personal identity. We are OK when it comes to meeting someone entirely different, but when we meet someone marginally different, we often take it as a challenge to our own identity.

It’s like this: My brother and I are 15 months apart, and we were often mistaken for twins in our childhood years. I hated it. It would have been easier to accept if we had been twins or totally opposite — God forbid we should be similar.

We’d all like to believe we have our own original identity. If we’re Republican, we don’t want to be mistaken for a Democrat. Or if we’re Methodist, we don’t want to be taken for a Baptist.

It was the same way with my brother and me. We hated to be called by each other’s name. But somehow, when the chips were down, my brother and I realized we had a bond in our similarities and we had strength in our differences.

I think that’s what Jesus meant when he accused the religious people of being blind to the fact that God has “other sheep in addition to those in this pen.” He promised them he would “gather and bring them, too . . . Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd.”

When Jesus had declared all of this, the religious people called him demon possessed. Not such a surprising reaction when you consider how we all tend to think we’re so especially different.

As for my son, I’m still working through that. I’m considering having him deprogrammed.