It is quite likely that all of us have heard this phrase before and we understand its meaning. Other phrases that are usually interpreted as having the same connotation are: “great minds think alike”, “like two peas in a pod”, “cut from the same cloth” or “like will to like”. But notice what happens when we compare it with other quite similar phrases like: “it takes one to know one” or “a pot calling the kettle black“. These last phrases are more often used as a quick retort to someone who calls us a liar, hypocrite, a*hole, or any other pejorative term that we would rather not be called. When we combine the logic behind all of these sayings, however, it seems to lead to a paradox where sometimes those who are alike will match and other times they will clash. So what’s the value of having things in common?

Even though they lead to opposite effects (i.e. union vs division), the idea that “birds of the same feather will flock together” derives from the same mental roots as the suggestion that “it takes a liar/hypocrite/a*hole to recognize another”. It is impossible to truly understand something that is entirely different from us and that’s why we cannot comprehend the intentions or the character of another (good or bad) without first recognizing that we are also the same. And it is then that we can either use this to forge and foster a mutual bond that unites us or we can draw destructive divisions and borders by pretending that there are ‘other fundamental differences’ that still make “us/me” better than or at least different from ‘Them’. That is one of the things that makes this phrase so interesting. Choice. People always have a choice [conscious or subconscious] to see the good or to see the bad in anything, and this phrase is no different. We can see this as saying that birds of a feather have no choice but to flock with those who are alike because it’s in their nature, or we can believe that birds are able to recognize their shared feathers and they choose to flock together.

Well then, 2017 has provided us with an international opportunity to make a choice about how we want to see each other, how we will define “us” vs “them”, and to test whether we let ourselves get divided or choose to become united. So let us all remember that Brexit and other national elections are restricted only to “nationals” but it’s harder to speak for “internationals” (foreigners and expats). Let us remember that just because a “majority” of those who voted can be convinced that something is in their interest, it does not mean that their vote represents “everyone” (of them) or that this is what’s best for everyone (of us). Let us use our rights and the supranational legal instrument of a “citizens’ initiative” to cross the inherent borders of a “national election”. Because in the end, nationality is not the same thing as citizenship.