Management of Similarity

This is a subtopic of poles of attraction.


We live in a society that specializes in the management of dissimilarity.

Deviant behaviour: We have a vast legal system to deal with people with deviant behaviour. It is a source of friction to stop an earlier source of friction.

Harmonious behaviour: there is no vast legal system to reward desirable behaviour.

Corporations are legal entities that claim to be disloyal to the people who work in them. They claim to be loyal to their shareholders, and their shareholders’ profit is calculated after the employees have been paid, which sets up an adversarial relationship between shareholders and employees. It is the business of corporations to manage this friction.


We are ‘similar’ to family members, not merely genetically, but in the sense that the well-being of the family has no other meaning than the well-being of its members. Members work (in principle) toward a healthy and happy household, and they benefit from exactly that thing.

Similarity, for the purpose of this essay, is functional. Students in an elite university are similar, even though they may be ethnically diverse. Similarity that is not functional is not the kind of similarity that needs to be managed.

While we spend most time with people with whom we are similar, we are not identical. That means there are potential points of friction. Most arguments we have are with family members. Most religious strife is between sects of the same religion.

We don’t have narratives about managing similarity. We don’t have tips and tricks. Arguably, there is no possible harmonious society until we do.

Work on what you want

If similarity is functional, what is it? What are you doing together? If you are working with a man because he is a brilliant engineer and you are building a bridge together, you needn’t worry about his off-color jokes. If the two of you are on a diplomatic mission to a country riddled with sectarian violence, then you do need to worry about it.

There is a common intuition that working on what you want means fighting or punishing what you don’t want. But think about it: if you are fighting or punishing, it implies that someone else is making the decisions about what there is to fight or punish. You are at best trimming back some one else’s tree. The big illumination of poles of attraction, is that if you create your own pole, the things that annoy you become either cannibalized or irrelevant. The only thing to do is to work on what you want, and in a way that makes it attractive to others.

Say ‘Yes’ to What You Want

It is a paradox of human nature that people have difficulty saying yes. It is easy to give, because there, one is in control. It is much harder to receive.

This should not be interpreted to mean saying yes to everything all the time. It is not a prescription for beatitude. This is really just about saying yes to the things you want and which are in your interests. You might think that this is a case you have well in hand. Most likely, not so.

If people were inclined to saying yes to what they want, there would be one romance novel, and it is included below for completeness’ sake:

John: I like you.

Mary: I like you too.

John: Let’s make a baby.

Mary: Okay.

The End.

Romance novels are interesting precisely because the main characters are not saying yes, and the reader knows they shall. This trope is not considered ridiculous because it is based on a ‘feature’ of the human being.

Accepting a gift is difficult because the terms are unspoken. You don’t know what kind of expectations will arise if you say yes. The answer is the obvious one: you say yes to the giver, not the gift. If the giver is similar to you functionally, then there is nothing to worry about. Or rather, if that is the source of your worry, you have much deeper problems than receiving a gift. Let’s be clear about this: being a bad person is a separate problem, and a pre-emptive problem. The goal is not to say yes in a broken situation, but rather, to cultivate a healthy situation in which you may say yes without worry.

Active listening

A special case of saying yes is accepting the gift of ideas. In a conversation, one has the tendency to immediately say, “Yeah, but…” and the result is that one’s interlocutor feels he/she hasn’t been heard or understood. The conversation goes in circles.

Usually, these failures arise due to mismanagement of similarity. Most conversations take place between similar people. They then seek out any differences to argue about. One ends such conversations feeling that a conflict has or hasn’t been resolved, when, in fact, the fineness of detail is actually confirmation of similarity.

The right way to argue about what you agree upon is to rephrase what your interlocutor is saying so that he/she knows you understood. It is important to describe and explain all the points your interlocutor thinks are important without using the word “but.” At some point your interlocutor will ask you why the two of you are having an argument. Then you have your opening. At this point, you may couch your new information as a supplement. You need not say, “Yeah, but…” rather, “Yeah, and…”

Reward what you want

Instead of saying, “I’m sick of you leaving your dirty dishes lying about,” you say, “I notice that you washed your cup this morning. Thank you.”

Avoid unnecessary friction

If you are writing songs with a partner who is often late, you can

  1. complain about it, and make your meeting even less attractive
  2. find something else to do. You never seem have time to sew buttons, but if you plan to do it before each song-writing session, you will win twice instead of losing twice.

Five year plan

The investments that you make in your intimates is very different depending on whether your goals have to do with this week versus the next five years. When you are thinking about this week, you are focused on getting your partner to perform certain tasks. When you are on the five-year plan, you are thinking about your partner’s future abilities, not his/her present characteristics. You want a future ally who is even more competent, capable and reliable than ever.

When you’re focused on the present it is tempting to put pressure on your partner to get the behaviors you want. That application of pressure is contrary to your five year goals. The reason is that you don’t want an ally who is the worn-out object of five years of pressuring. Most importantly, you want an ally, someone whose experience with you makes him/her devoted to you. Therefore, the management of similarity requires a five-year plan to operate alongside your short-term goals.

First, you have to decide where you want to be in five years. Recently graduated and ready to start a family? Struggling to develop a new business? Living in a foreign country?

Knowing where you are going to be tells you what kind of allies you need.

If you want to start a family, but your husband plays too many video games, you will need to reward any small care-giving behaviors that he produces, in order encourage more. This is different than complaining about video games. You ignore the video games and put your attention on the kinds of rewards you can give for the behaviors you want. You will ultimately get more (but not all) of the behaviour you want while simultaneously associating yourself with reward.

If you want to retire from your business in five years and you want your daughter to take over, there are steps you can take to prepare her. You can incrementally give her more responsibility, and time your rescues to maximize her appreciation of your tutelage. Criticizing her and otherwise wearing away her self-confidence is not preparing her for her future role. You must check your short-term reaction with your long-term goal.

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