Principle of Non-Sameness

Two unalterable and intertwined principles are evident in large-group relationships. I call the first one the Maintenance of Non-Sameness. One large (i.e., ethnic) group cannot be the same as, or even closely similar to, a neighbor who is perceived as a dangerous enemy. Although antagonistic groups usually have major differences in religion, language and historical or mythological backgrounds, “minor differences” (Freud, 1921) between antagonists can become major problems that lead to deadly consequences. When large groups regress, any signal of similarity is perceived, often unconsciously, as unacceptable; minor differences therefore become elevated to great importance to protect non-sameness.

-Vamik Volkan, “Concepts”

Introduction by Sydney Allard

Often when we come into contact with groups that we consider to be antagonistic, we focus on what is different rather than what is similar between us in order to protect ourselves against identifying with and empathizing with the other.

In this project, we have been lenient with Volkan’s definition of the Principle of Non-Sameness– for this chapter, we accepted entries that related any ways in which we or our family members attempt to “disown” part of our identities for social, emotional or political gain, in addition to entries that fall within the traditional definition of Non-Sameness.




Sarah Cope doesn’t want to know how much money she has. She worries that she would be unable to speak candidly about social issues if she (and her friends) knew for certain knew that her family benefited from, and perhaps perpetuated, socioeconomic inequality. But the cars that her family drives have always made it hard to differentiate herself from the wealthy elite.

Romanian Heritage

Nathaniel Askanase discusses the Principle of Non-Sameness through the lens of assimilation. Though Nathaniel’s Romanian-born mother obviously has a lot in common with other Romanians, she often asks as though she doesn’t to try to seem more American and less Romanian.

The Mason-Dixon Line

Chloe Levine writes about her struggles to acknowledge her unavoidable connection to her family from the South whose political leanings differ from hers. In this way, she overcomes the Principle of Non-Sameness– she is able to acknowledge what she loves and respects about people she disagrees with.