Beware “The Narcissism of Small Differences”

I became aware of Freud’s concept of the narcissism of small differences while reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s, story “Show, Don’t Tell” in The New Yorker.

(As we all learned from watching “Working Girl” you never know where the next big idea is going to come from.)

At any rate– in a nutshell—the narcissism of small differences is when a group of people who have far more in common than not feel the need to fixate on their small differences in order to differentiate themselves from one another:

To the point that they begin to actively dislike/disparage one another.

Yes, there is a term for this, and yes, I’m thrilled to know it.

Why? Because—no matter what profession, school, or group you are in and/or what hobby, sport, or passion project you engage with—you , too, are likely to have encountered this particular brand of narcissism.

For example, to non-bankers, people in banking appear to do much the same thing. Within the banking community, however, my experience has been that hair’s breadth distinctions are given banner status.

And then these bankers eat their young.

Before you start feeling smug, I’ve also encountered this phenomenon with chefs, doctors, gardeners, web designers, hairdressers, ministers, vegetarians, lawyers, painters, yogis, socialites, marketers, musicians….

Even mothers and fathers…. “We don’t parent that way…”

I’m guessing you’ve encountered it, too.

And while there is nothing wrong with making distinctions between – and even celebrating—the many different ways people can bake cakes, or design logos, or grow food, it gets tricky when you begin believing your way is the best way.

Or, heaven forbid, the only way.

Because when you cling to ‘my way’ you preclude your ability to synthesize, cooperate, support, or even—in extreme cases—peacefully co-exist with other members of your tribe.

You destroy a fundamental reason for belonging in the first place:  community.