It’s easy to stand together with others who are the same type of person as you.
That’s why we’re members of political parties, fans of sports teams, members of special interest groups, and proud alumni of our chosen schools.
We like to be part of the team, standing together with others who are like us.
Here’s the thing, though:
What makes a person the same “type” of human as you?
What makes them different?
There’s not a person who has ever lived that you honestly have nothing in common with. There’s always a similarity somewhere.
At the same time, there’s not a single human who has ever lived who is exactly like you, either.
Just as we all have things in common, we also all have differences.
Sometimes, we have lots in common, and sometimes we share little.
Yet, we still manage to find kinship with total strangers over superficial similarities – just discovering that you graduated from the same high school as your new coworker is often enough to spark a friendship.
The opposite can also be true, though:
A single difference we deem important, whatever the reasoning behind it, can be enough to spark lasting animosity.
Us vs. Them
There’s always a lot of press coverage of things like the Black Lives Matter/All Lives Matter dispute, racial riots, violence against blacks/whites/cops/women, etc…
If you follow the general narrative, you’re supposed to pick a side – preferably one out of the two opposing viewpoints that the media presents to give the illusion of fairness.
But here’s a question for you:
What makes these things into an “Us vs. Them” scenario?
And what, exactly, makes the stories you see on your nightly news any more important and relevant than the other conflicts, occurrences, and events in your own neighborhood?
Here’s the thing about news stories:
You’re being presented with a snippet of information – a soundbite in 30 seconds or less – that summarizes something that’s probably been playing out for days, months, or even years.
In that 30 seconds, it’s the reporter’s job to catch your attention, get you emotionally involved, and give you something to talk about so that you feel invested in the story.
After all, if you don’t tune back in tomorrow for the next soundbite, their ratings (and income) drop.
Without you loyally coming back for more “information” on the “issues,” those people are out of a job.
You don’t have enough time in the day to get all the details associated with every snippet, though.
You have a life.
So, the news media chooses a few of the billions of things that you might consider “news,” and they give you the short, 30 second version, framed to be simple, straightforward, polarizing, and pitched to play on a specific emotion.
All you have to do is pick a side.
Real Life Doesn’t Have “Sides”
When there’s a real, important decision to be made, there are as many opinions and proposed solutions as there are people involved.
Everyone has a unique perspective.
The idea that there are only two (and maybe 3 if the story is really complex) opposing viewpoints per issue is ridiculous.
Still, we want to be informed, don’t we?
A person who doesn’t have an opinion about one of the issues of the day is perceived as hopelessly ignorant, apathetic to the state of the world, and irresponsible as a citizen.
The thinking is this:
How can you possibly be doing your duty as an American if you don’t have an opinion about the latest news stories? Don’t you care about national and world affairs?
Most of us have been guilty of exactly the same fallacy.
In reality, the person who is active in their own community and doesn’t have a clue what was on the morning news is likely more informed than their neighbor who religiously watches CNN and the BBC.
Choosing a side to join the conversation isn’t helpful.
It isn’t evidence that you’re educated on the important issues.
Here’s what it really means when you choose a side and join the discussion based on the current headlines:
You’re allowing someone else to create divisiveness over an irrelevancy.
Divide and Conquer
Maybe there are political powers at work trying to intentionally create that us vs. them environment, and maybe politicians are simply prone to take advantage of the existing situation.
Either way, here’s the truth:
Our tendency to put people into opposing categories makes it easy for politicians to take control.
Once we have an enemy – real or imagined – we’re no longer just voting for an elected official. We’re voting for the general who’s going to lead the charge against the evil them, the people who are against us.
If you’re voting for _____, you’re an ignorant, terrible person, and we can’t be friends anymore.
Haven’t you seen statements like this on your social media feeds?
Imagine if the same statement was made regarding a different opinion.
If you drive a Toyota, you’re clearly an idiot. I’m deleting you from my contact list because people who drive Toyotas obviously support outsourcing jobs and destroy the American economy,
Your favorite food is vegetable soup? Never talk to me again, cretin. The only people who like vegetable soup are people who hate dairy farmers.
Those statements don’t make sense, do they?
How can a predilection for vegetable soup automatically translate into a negative opinion of dairy farmers?
But that’s what we do with the “issues” of the day, isn’t it?
If you support gun rights, then you obviously want to go back in time to the days when cowboys roamed the streets and dueling was an acceptable response to insult.
Meanwhile, if you want recycling programs to be more readily available everywhere, you’re clearly a tree-hugging hippy who’s completely out of touch with reality and thinks every problem can be solved with a hug and a joint.
Oh, you want to have the option to homeschool your kids? You must be a religious nutjob straight out of a Stephen King novel.
That’s what the us vs. them mindset does.
You get to join a team, so to speak, of people on one supposed side of the issue.
As soon as someone expresses the “them” opinion, you mentally place them in a category and assume a bunch of erroneous stuff about them.
It’s difficult to imagine being cruel to your best friend…
But being cruel, unfair, and even downright tyrannical to someone in the “them” category is easy because you’ve assigned to them a list of sins for which they must pay.
Because they disagree with you, because you see them as unlike yourself, they seem somehow less human, and that’s a dangerous thing.
It’s that kind of thinking that gives rise to such atrocities as prison camps and genocide.
We murdered millions of Native Americans because we called them “savages” instead of people.
We enslaved Africans, Haitians, Irish immigrants, Chinese immigrants, and our own impoverished neighbors and justified it by saying they were less intelligent or capable.
We locked Japanese-American citizens in prison camps because we were told, and believed, that people of Japanese descent were dangerous.
And these awful acts of slavery, murder, and warrantless imprisonment were all legal thanks to the overwhelming public support when they were committed.
The government didn’t step in to oppress its own citizens of Japanese descent until it was already an “issue.”
We chose sides.
And then we imprisoned between 20,000 to 50,000 of our own friends and neighbors.
When we are divided against ourselves – when we start to see each other as less than human because of a difference of opinion – we open the door for tyranny, oppression, and murder.
Perhaps it’s time that we learned how to disagree with an idea instead of disagreeing with an entire person.
Our freedom depends on it.