Nearly 20 years ago, in May 1997, The Wallflowers released the final single from their most famous album, Bringing Down the Horse. That song, “The Difference”, has always intrigued and confused me.
The chorus is simply this:
“The only difference that I see is you are exactly the same as you used to be.”
How can the difference be that nothing has changed?
After two decades of attempting to unpack this riddle, I now believe it to mean this:
The narrator is saying that the other person was known for always evolving as a person. But now after seeing them again, the narrator has observed that person has finally reached a point of being… settled.
And that surprised the narrator. So the only difference he saw after all these years in between was that, finally, the other person remained the same since the last time he saw him.
Perhaps, there is some assumed irony in a possible role reversal: Now, the narrator has evolved as time had passed, yet the other person had not.
I feel this way about the high school version of myself. I went to school with the same 183 people for 13 years, yet I’ve been out of school for nearly 18 years.
The people I grew up with have a memory of what I was like back in the 1990s, yet there is a good chance the 2017 version of me is much different; for better or worse.
While it is very important to reach a point of stability in life, I feel it’s just as important to find ways to positively evolve despite that comfort zone.
The day I stop evolving as a human being is the day I stop being relevant. So always expect me to be in some kind of new transition that I am sorting out. Always expect a constant character arc with me. If you don’t see me going through some kind of new phase of change and growth and maturity, that’s when you should be worried about me.
It’s fundamentally important to me to be relevant, because I interpret being relevant as being alive. I feel connected to the world when I can share my current personal evolution with anyone in my society who will listen.
I suppose I will always need, and find, an audience. It’s not that I crave attention- it’s that I crave intellectual exchange and the personal growth that comes from it.
A trait of emotional intelligence is that a person embraces change instead of fears it- and is always learning, instead of thinking they already know everything.
Granted, I am not the epitome of the adage, “Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.” Obviously I do not personally adopt any new ideas that are inconsistent with my moral code. Yet at the same time, I have no desire to judge other people when their personal beliefs don’t match mine. (That’s another sign of emotional intelligence.)
There’s a stereotype about men in particular, that as we get old, we get set in our ways; close-minded to new ideas. But I want the entire world to know now, that will never be me.
No, it’s not my destiny. No, I won’t ultimately became the very person I fear.
Here’s what sets me apart from me for that stubborn old man:
I find my identity in exploring new ideas. I find strength in seeing life in ways I hadn’t before. This is what has always worked for me.
So for me to become set in my ways, it’s heresy against my values.
If there’s going to be any irony with this concept, it’s that I am close-minded to being close-minded.
I will die as the most open-minded, teachable old man you know.