It is a natural human function to group things: the aggregation of data allows us to move smoothly through our day and not get bogged down in sensory detail. We have to be cautious when categorizing people based on a particular characteristic because ensuing assumptions cause biases, stereotypes, and narrowed expectations. Also, we don't stop at basic grouping. We set ordering systems that are sometimes tiered such as hierarchies and sometimes binary such as "us" and "other." The problem with this is that one group will come out on top leaving another group(s) on the fringe or marginalized or with no voice.
Happiness studies find that there is no increase in happiness with increase in income, beyond basic needs being met, and also controlling for perceived social comparison. In essence, how you compare yourself to your peers can have as much or more import than actual income. We set up hierarchies around scenarios that need no hierarchy. A personal anecdote comes from my time as a graduate student at University of Texas, Austin. The department of clinical psychology built researchers and the department of social work built clinicians. Driven by this framework for grouping and ordering, one department posited that you became a clinician if, well, you weren't a good researcher and the other department believed that people with limited therapeutic skills became researchers. This is a testament to how arbitrary our metrics can be for social comparison and for hierarchical systems.
In a way, determining the binary "Other" is a short cut. A line is set and the "other" is too different. With binary comparison, one group is very definitively at the top. As history shows time and again, this "other" is also blamed for all that appears unfair or tragic. As I further delve into Solomon's Far from the Tree, this notion of separateness, of potential "other" is in sharp relief for these populations faced with struggles such as deafness or dwarfism or Down Syndrome.
There is fear towards what is not known or understood. One story is shared where the mother of a dwarf is in a hospital elevator with her son. She gazes with pity upon a fellow mother holding a boy with Down Syndrome. She is moved when she recognizes that the other woman is similarly pitying her. When a difficult situation is approached with acceptance, it can be easier than what would appear for the observer. In this situation, there is unintentional judgment in the pity but no cruelty. It is found that siblings of children with different conditions develop more compassion as do typical students in schools with inclusion programs allowing for greater diversity. Building a comfort level is key: for me, I examine my own behavior in a new light while reading Solomon's book. I have more compassion; while political correctness can be overdone, I will consider my words more thoughtfully.
With greater social acceptance of people who are deaf, or have short stature, or have Down Syndrome, it will be easier to navigate the world with these conditions. Research towards cures or treatment that ameliorates the symptoms can be controversial. Cochlear implants and limb lengthening, for some, calls into question the value of the individual and the community for whom deafness or short stature is part of an identity. Early Intervention is not similarly questioned because it augments, it doesn't remove. Specific to Early Intervention and Down Syndrome, Solomon says, "Many specific techniques are invaluable in addressing particular needs, but the long and short of it is that disabled children, like nondisabled children, thrive on attention, engagement, stimulation and hope (p. 184)."
For me, the current take home message is to be aware of hiearachies I inadverntly crease and assumptions I make of others' experience. Honing an ability to limit social comparison, to not see oneself as above or below others, is vital. There will always be someone better or worse at all tasks. The energy wasted to crease an ordering systme can be better spent on doing the best you can with what you have in every moment. This might be a big predicament like medical complications associated with short stature or a temporary predicament like an allergic reaction, poor mood, or the flu. Regardless, you use the tools at hand.
In sum, cheesy and true, everyone is equal. Last, there is one value to grouping. Internalized, non-judgmental, grouping can form that sense of identity around your struggle. With the help of internet, even people faced with conditions of low incidence can identify others in similar situations and find specialist facilities. Limiting hierarchies, tossing use of "other," and promoting communities equal to all other communities, will make the world richer and more vibrant.