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The Value of Shared Differences

By Ben Levin

The bonds developed by shared differences are overlooked and deserve to be celebrated. I am talking about the bonds people forge when they are both in minority groups or both in a group that has struggled to be accepted.

One example of such a pairing is David and Gloria from my book In the Hole. They meet at a sleepaway camp for teens and tweens who are facing homelessness and they instantly hit it off. It is also noteworthy that in addition to being homeless, they are misfits at the camp in another way too—they are both eleven. Most of the other campers are teenagers and it is implied that there is a small percentage of eleven-year-old campers. David and Gloria quickly become very close and bond over other things they have in common too, such as their shared love of basketball and their close-knit families, and the fact they are both very emotional. This is a very important thing about shared differences—while they tend to bring people together, they are usually not the only thing such people have in common. That isn’t to say people with shared differences usually have everything in common. Not at all. David and Gloria are examples of this too. Gloria enjoys studying Spanish, English, and History, something which alienates David a little. She also loves to play piano and sing. David has very little interest in music. In addition, David loves baseball. Gloria only plays basketball.

The specialty of shared differences isn’t only relevant with pairs. They are especially important with groups, and how the bonds of large groups with a shared difference can create something beautiful. I am writing Gloria’s story as well and I am hoping to have her make more friends who are unsheltered than just David.

The concept of shared differences has it’s echoes in my life too. For example, I went through a hard and lonely time in fifth grade and a huge part of that was confusion over my autistic identity. However, a boy who is also on the spectrum joined my school in sixth grade and we instantly became close—we are still best friends today. He is super pure of heart and someone who’s always gotten me through hard times. We have bonded over much more than just being autistic—we both love the arts, we both enjoy playing sports even though neither of us takes them seriously, we both have food restrictions, and we both enjoy nature. However, we are different in many ways to. I don’t like to cook and I’m a picky eater. He loves cooking and he’s willing to eat anything. I also enjoy loud noises. He can’t stand loud noises.

Then there is another friend I have on the spectrum whom I met five months ago. I first saw him in a talent show where he said he was an autistic author and my first thought was, No way! Someone who has both those things in common with me! Through our case managers, I organized for us to meet and we instantly hit it off. We’ve only been friends for a few months, but I feel like he’s became a rock for me. He writes mostly poetry and he is the sweetest person ever. Our only significant differences are that I love large group activities whereas large groups make him uncomfortable, and he is very into style and dressing nicely whereas I dress more like a jock. However, it is amazing that we have the same two things in common which significantly define my identity. He also has food restrictions and we’ve done similar work for our autism. I love when we talk about our writing together and our shared dream—to help uplift everyone on the spectrum. He’s also introduced me to a group of his friends who are all on the spectrum and I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know them all, even though they can be a little kooky at times.

The types of friendships and groups that are formed through shared differences can come from anything—race, physical disabilities, sexuality, religion, even a group of girls bonding in a class that is at least 90% male counts. When these friendships and communities are built, they tend to lead to something very special and wholesome, something beautiful. That is why it is important to celebrate the bonds that come from shared differences.

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