We're all different

I know it is not winter, but something I read recently got me to thinking about snowflakes. The ideas likely came from a memoir by Barry Lopez called “Horizon.” Lopez is a veery good writer, winner of the National Book Award. Horizon is a very personal memoir of a man who has traveled extensively and often. He examines not only his own life, but the life of the planet. Having gone too some of the coldest and hottest and loneliest places on the planet, he speaks of the search for meaning and purpose in this world. I picked up the book because Lopez is is the author of Arctic Dreams. I have been drawn to books about Arctic and Antarctic explorations.

My thoughts of snowflakes, however, weren’t directly related to the book I’m currently reading. Sometime several years ago I read an article, likely on the Internet, about a scientist who had come up with a rough mathematical formula to test the adage that there are no two snowflakes that are alike. Basically the article said that because a water molecule consists of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom and oxygen and hydrogen bond at specific angles favoring six-sided prisms for snow crystals. Additional ices tends to attach to the six branches. Then the scientist estimated the number of snow crystals that fall on the earth. The number is huge. In the article it was represented by counting the number of zeros that would follow the lead number. I don’t remember the numbers, but they were very big. Then the scientist computed the statistical possibility of two of the smaller crystals being identical over a span of say, ten or a hundred years and concluded that there was a small statistical probability that there were two snow crystals that were identical at some point in history, but that finding them would be impossible.

So, for all practical purposes what we learned as children is true. No two snowflakes are identical. And if there were two that were identical, the odds of them being seen by the same person are astronomically huge. It just isn’t going to happen.

Then again we hear of events that beat astronomical odds. Last week three sisters in Mansfield Ohio gave birth to babies. The three children were delivered within a span of 4 1/2 hours by the same doctor at the same hospital. USA Today reported that the odds of that occurring were one in 50 million. But it did happen.

The odds of finding two identical snowflakes are much, much higher.

It is the nature of this universe to favor diversity and difference. You could spend a lifetime studying dragonflies and you wouldn’t find any two that were identical. That’s true of birds and rocks and blades of grass. It is true of people, too. We are all different.

We often forget this amazing diversity, however. We want to put items into categories. Unlike people who live near the poles, we have one word for snow. If it is an ice crystal that fell from the sky and it isn’t hail, we’ll call it snow. Even though no two snowflakes are the same, we’re going to put them all in the same category.

When we do that with people, we almost always create problems. We humans are each unique with our own genetic traits, our own decisions, our own cultural experiences, our own stories. And we don’t like it when others place us in categories. When people fail to see others as unique and human the results are often incredible cruelty. Human history is filled with experiences of murder and genocide and discrimination. Some lives are valued more than others.

On the one hand, it is surprising to me that the choice whether or not to wear a face mask when going out in public is so emotional and political. People scream at one another over their decision. Those who try to enforce the rules about face masks are threatened and some have become the victims of violence. People have been killed in the passion or arguments over this simple behavior. I’ve heard it reported that liberals wear face masks and conservatives don’t. That generalization doesn’t hold up in my observation. I suspect that the age of the individual has as much to do with the decision about a mask as does the political affiliation, but there are some general categories that hold up statistically. When it comes to wearing face masks, we seem to greet those who make different decisions with fear. I’ve hear both those who wear masks when they go out in public and those who do not describe the others as “living in fear.”

I don’t see why the decision has to be absolute. I have gotten into the habit of always carrying a face mask with me when I leave the house. Whether or not I wear it has to do with my proximity to others. If I’m hiking with my wife and there are no others present, I don’t wear my mask. If I go into the post office where people stand in line, I wear the mask. I haven’t figured out how to eat while wearing a mask, so yesterday we pulled down our masks to share an ice cream treat in an outdoor setting where people were physically distanced. I wore my mask to order and pay and when I took items to the trash can, where people were closer together. I saw some people who weren’t wearing masks, but they posed to threat to me or to others that I could deserve.

I also don’t find it to be any limit on my freedom that masks are required in certain settings. I didn’t feel my freedom was being restricted when I wore a face mask when I went in for a blood draw for a routine check-up. I’ve lived with businesses posting signs that say “No shirt, no shoes, no service” for all of my life. Although I grew up in a home where we often came straight from playing in the river to the dinner table, sometimes in our swimsuits or wet cutoffs, I haven’t found my freedom restricted by businesses that require me to put on shoes.

As we go through this pandemic together, I hope we will just cut each other a little slack. We are all different. And that is a good thing. As we make our own choices, may we give others the room to make theirs as well without judging them.

Once we figure out face masks, perhaps I could share my opinion on motorcycle helmets. And I don’t even own a motorcycle.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!