THE BLOG
06/14/2010 12:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What the World Cup Can Teach Us

Walking down West 3rd street in New York City this past Saturday, I followed the noise of a large crowd chanting loudly. I turned the corner to view a bar, packed to capacity. I looked at the mass of people, arm-in-arm, watching the USA take on England in the World Cup. The diversity among the people was stunning -- young and old, racially diverse, Red Sox and Yankees fans -- all cheering together for the United States.

Earlier that morning, I traveled to Koreatown in New York City to watch South Korea vs. Greece. I brought some close friends with me -- some Korean, some not. In a bar on the 3rd floor were hundreds of people on this early weekend morning, cheering loudly and happily for the Red Devils. Not one person had a frown on his/her face. With each goal, the room erupted in elation and people embraced one another, including my friends, in celebration. I looked around at those who, five minutes ago, had never before met, now acting as if the people beside them were close friends and family.

Many of these people, in a different context, may have simply ignored or even engaged one another in a belligerent way. In a world so focused on minute differences between individuals, this was a rare day where the attention was instead on common bonds. As a result, people were treating each other with the respect of a close friend.

The reality -- no matter how much the cynics among us try to deny it -- is that we all have far more in common than we have differences. In soccer, even fans of two individual countries can find a bond in their love for the sport. The same applies to all rival groups: if these people spent nearly as much effort focusing on their commonalities than their differences, the world would be a much different place. And for the sake of the future, it needs to be.

A shift in focus from emphasizing differences to focusing on common bonds (while celebrating diversity) is not something that can happen overnight. Rather, it will take a change in behavior -- from the public, from the media, and from our leaders -- to do what is right to make progress, together. As in everything, it must start not from a large movement, but on the individual level. So next time you find yourself in conflict with a neighbor or co-worker, make an effort to try and find a common bond between you.

And, if all else fails, just flip on your country's World Cup soccer match, grab his/her arm, and cheer together. After those 90 minutes, you just may discover a new thing about that person that you never would have known otherwise. And that, in itself, can be the impetus for meaningful change in our relationships, our lives, and indeed our global society.

Daniel Arrigg Koh is a second-year MBA candidate at Harvard Business School. He holds a B.A. in Government from Harvard College. He can be reached at dkoh@mba2011.hbs.edu.