Birds of a Feather

One of my incorrigible flaws (I have many) is that I’m an inveterate sense-maker; that is, I try to make sense of, or to find the sense in, everything. This, for example, is why I still try to figure out: If a snake in the grass is an asp, why is a grasp in the ass a goose? See what I mean?

And, so, in recent Salon 360˚ conversations on this topic — Bridging the Racial Divide: What Comes Next? — I found myself baffled: If we’re going to engage in discussions about bridging divides, why would we start with the very things that divide us? Wouldn’t it make more sense to ignore those things, at least at the outset? Wouldn’t it make more sense to start with the things that unite us? Once we agree on those things, we can move on from there to discuss the things that divide us. And we’ll be starting from a much more unified place, a much more constructive place, a much more equable place.


When Anne and I adopted our dog, Eddie, three years ago, he was already a year-and-a-half old. Our cat, Sammy, was already eight-and-a-half years old. I took this photo within 24 hours of our bringing Eddie home. We deliberately didn’t tell Eddie he was a dog. We deliberately didn’t tell Sammy he was a cat. And we deliberately didn’t tell each of them the other was a different species because we didn’t want them to fight like … well … you know.

The fact that they got along immediately — that they were much more interested in the things they had in common like the love of a soft bed, like the desire for the comfort of companionship, like the need for calm and peace of mind — made me think about the ways in which we make things more complicated than they need to be.

In the introduction to his book, Classic Crews, the late Harry Crews wrote this:

I hooked up with a carny and worked for a while as a caller for the ten-in-one show. In the world of carnivals, the ten-in-one is the freak show. I was especially fond of the Fat Lady and her friends there under the tent. I think I know why, and I know I know when, I started loving freaks. I had been able to rent a place to sleep from a freak man and his freak wife and I woke up one morning looking at both of them where they stood at the other end of their trailer in the kitchen. They stood perfectly still in the dim, yellow light, their backs to each other. I could not see their faces, but I was close enough to hear them clearly when they spoke.

“What’s for supper, darling?” he said.

“Franks and beans, with a nice little salad,” she said.

And then they turned to each other under the yellow light. The lady had a beard not quite as thick as my own but about three inches long and very black. The man’s face had a harelip. His face was divided so that the top of his nose forked. His eyes were positioned almost on the sides of his head and in the middle was a third eye that was not really an eye at all but a kind of false lid over a round indentation that saw nothing. It was enough, though, to make me taste bile in my throat and to cause a cold fear to start in my heart.

They kissed. Their lips brushed briefly and I heard them murmur to each other and he was gone through the door. And I, lying at the back of the trailer, was never the same again.

I have never stopped remembering that as wondrous and special as those two people were, they were only talking about and looking forward to and needing precisely what all the rest of us talk about and look forward to and need.

And there you have it. If we want to cross any divide, we shouldn’t be discussing our differences. We should be discussing what all of us, regardless of our differences, talk about, and look forward to and need.

Occam’s Razor

Last winter, I posted this photo on Facebook, with this comment:

When a woodpecker takes a chunk of suet from the feeder in your backyard and flies up to an overhanging tree limb to feed its mate, you realize how needlessly complicated the human psyche has become.

If we’re going to cross any divide, the first thing we have to do is simplify. We have to remove the complexity from the discussions through which we bridge those divides. Accordingly, I suggest we start here: We’re all human beings. Because that’s true, at the most fundamental level, all of us talk about and look forward to and need precisely what all the rest of us talk about and look forward to and need.

If we start there, we will have established common ground. We will have established some criteria for unity. We will have established the sameness from which we can introduce and begin to discuss our differences. And it won’t matter what those differences are because we’ll already have recognized and conceded our unifying sameness.

Am I suggesting we don’t have legitimate differences? No. Am I suggesting we should ignore reality? No. Am I suggesting we might make more progress toward the harmonious objectives we seek if we start from a place other than disharmony? Yes. That’s exactly what I’m suggesting.

If you don’t think I’m crazy — and/or if you know why a grasp in the ass is a goose — I sincerely hope you’ll join us on November 30 to continue the conversation.

We are, after all, birds of a feather.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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    • Susan, I’m so sorry. I just now discovered your comments here.

      Thank you. Sometimes I get attacks of common sense. When I do, I feel compelled to share them. It makes some folks think I’m nuts. But if those folks don’t want to look at things differently, they won’t be the ones interested in making differences anyway.