same, same…but different

Arin N. Reeves
3 min readJun 15, 2023

I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in December, and I learned a phrase that helps me reframe how I think about many aspects of my work and life: same, same…but different.

I was traveling with a small group of women, and we had spent several long days traversing the mountains of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai by van, bikes, and hikes. We had a relatively quiet evening planned in the city of Chiang Mai, and one of the other women in the group and I decided to head out on foot to explore the city’s nightlife. She is a white woman — an ICU nurse — who lives in Northern California on a farm, and I am…none of those things. As we walked, we talked about how different our lives were and how racial, geographic, and vocational differences seem to be dividing people more than ever in the US these days.

We saw an outdoor bar with a pool table, and we decided to stop for a drink and maybe a round of pool. The barkeep did not speak English, and we did not speak any Thai beyond hello, thank you, and goodbye. Through the universal language of pointing and head shaking along with the few English words on his end, we managed to order our drinks. He asked us where we were from, and I pulled up a map of the United States on my phone and showed him Northern California and Chicago. He smiled at us, nodded, and said same, same…but different.

I had never heard that phrase before, and it fascinated me. He was right. She and I were same, same…but different. From his perspective, we were both American and couldn’t speak Thai — same, same — but I was showing him Chicago and Northern California from my perspective of how far apart they were — different.

I continued to reflect on this phrase when I noticed that there was only one person left at the pool table. I asked him if I could play, and he waved me into the game. My first shot after the break was close…really close. I smiled at the barkeep who was watching and pinched my index finger and thumb closely to indicate how close I had come to banking my shot. The guy I was playing stepped up, called his shot, and hit the ball. I watched as the ball sailed gracefully into the pocket. The barkeep grinned at me, pointed first to where my ball had stopped just short of the pocket and then to the pocket where the other player’s ball had just sailed in, and said same, same…but different.

I realized that the first time he had used the phrase, he had emphasized the same, same and deemphasized the different. This time, he had deemphasized the same, same and emphasized the different.

Same, same…but different.

This phrase simply but powerfully encapsulates the core of diversity, equity, and inclusion work. We are all same, same…but different, and sometimes the focus of our work is to make sure that we are indeed same, same and other times, the focus of our work is to make sure that the different is embraced because the same, same is not possible if the different is not embraced.

Same, same…but different.

How can that phrase shift your perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion today?

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Arin N. Reeves

President of Nextions, best-selling author, a fierce advocate for justice, a catalyst for smarter thinking on inclusion and equity