"Us" vs. "Them"

By Uncle Bill Warner

I think it was George Bernard Shaw who once said, "There are two kinds of people in this world: those who divide people into two groups and those who don't." Tongue-in-cheek, sure, but it calls into question our inclination to binary thinking. I have a friend who told me that there are only two groups of people: "Us" and "Them." It's a perversion of animal instinct to see everyone not in our pack or herd as a potential threat. Cultural paranoia can be seen as cultural mental illness.

Ever heard statements like, "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists", "law-abiding citizen or evil doer", "patriot or traitor", "believer or infidel"? There is a frightening madness about this type of thinking, whether it comes from "Us" or "Them," especially when accompanied by self-righteousness certainty.

What if we recognized that the world is not black and white, but instead shades of every color? We might put a light on a dimmer rather than just an on-off switch? We might realize we could devise a voting system that would allow us to rank-order all the candidates rather than just strategically voting for the one with the most money and the best chance of winning. (The IRV voting system does just that. See the link on our web site for a description.) We might come to compare God with an underground river and not mistake the various wells for the river itself. We might come to see a whistleblower who breaks the law to expose a greater evil as a patriot instead of a criminal. We might come to see addiction as something that applies to "Our" drugs, be it coffee, nicotine, alcohol, or pain killers, as well as "Their" drugs, the distinction being more often political than scientific. We might learn to mix pride with humility.

We need to learn respect for people who are not like us. (Whoever "us" may be) This morning I was attending a peace vigil in Visalia, when a red-faced chap drove up, stopped and started angrily calling us "scumbags", and then sped off when I walked over to talk with him. I suppose he objected to such revolutionary signs as the one that said "PEACE" or maybe "Blessed are the peace-makers…Jesus." I'll never know. Maybe he and I have things in common. Maybe we both went through boot camp at Parris Island. Maybe we both like cats. Maybe we both love our children. Stressing our differences and closing our hearts to others is not what makes America great.

Imagine (…good name for a song) that there was no "Them" and "Us," but only "Us." I say imagine, because, after all, the only difference between "Them" and "Us" is in the imagination! If we saw "Them" as just more of "Us" we might be more inclined to apply the "Golden Rule" than "Shock and Awe." Can we do it? Perhaps. The most intelligent suggestion for mankind that I have heard is to "…maintain the skepticism of the intellect and the optimism of the spirit." We can't control drought, flood, fire, hurricane of earthquake, by an act of the will, but that is exactly what it takes to change the way we deal with other human beings.

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