Two of my best friends ever no longer talk to me. I cannot say that it is all their fault, but here is what happened. Two things have changed significantly in the past few years for me – I went Vegan and I deconstructed my faith. Both individuals became irritated when I talked about these things online. Again, I am assuming partial responsibility – I still have some proclivities toward preaching, but the difference of belief systems (how we should eat and what we should believe) created an otherness between us.
We kind of just agreed to part ways. This happens when friends no longer feel they can support each other’s lifestyles, or they do not think they can be quiet about what the other believes. Sometimes it is concern, sometimes it is judgement – but, often differences create an uneasiness because admitting they are right, forces us to be wrong (and we don’t like that).
However strong the urge is to categorize people and put them into the other category, I want to assert that there is no them—there is only us. We are all part of the same human race, and although otherizing people makes us feel better initially, it never accomplishes noble goals.
It Happens at Work
We assume that people are ignorant or irresponsible when we put them in a category or group. Companies and school districts are making tough decisions these days about reopening. Employees returning to work sometimes assume the people in charge did not even give it any thought but just made some rash decisions. Why would we assume that? When we see groups of people (even at work) as other, then it allows us the freedom to assume whatever is comfortable.
When we see other departments or other levels of management as part of some different entity, then we can make all kinds of assumptions, including that they do not really care. I suppose it is some kind of survival mechanism, but it only inhibits progress and harmony when we cannot see other people as very similar to us. The more we dehumanize or devalue them, the easier it is to dismiss them or ignore them or just make life difficult for them.
It Happens with Politics
Beginning in the 1980s, Christians began to place an extremely high value on their politics. They used the emotional issue of abortion to justify just about anything. People on both sides falsely believe that if we could just put the right person in office, everything would fix itself. Of course, that is not true – we will still be the same people – we will still have most of the same problems – and we will find other things to argue about soon enough.
The real issue with politics is that when we place a high value on winning (for the greater good we suppose), we tend to dehumanize other people. I wrote about the is recently in an article entitled What is Wrong with Christians. People on both sides of the aisle, that are otherwise decent, can very easily shame, blame, and hate other good people. The vitriol I sometimes witness is astonishing and not at all what we should expect. Since I have evolved in both my religious and political views, I have some compassion for both sides, but I admit I am also guilty of such behavior.
Governments, Countries and Races
Branding people as other eventually makes its way to bigger stages. Races of people and other countries can eventually be necessary of extermination when otherizing is allowed to ferment. Mix a little bit of fear and a healthy imagination and it seems like the logical thing to do. America’s brief history reveals this to be true. We have brutalized the Native Americans, enslaved another people, and participated in way too many wars for a place that likes to believe it is a “Christian” nation.
It is easy to believe all kinds of conspiracy theories when the government (the one we elected) is imagined as an entity that just wants to take away our freedom. Do not get me started on that one!
How about we take a simple step?
I believe in taking small, simple steps towards progress. I marched in a couple of rallies this year – I do not have to change the world – I just need to do my part. So, what if we simply tried a little harder to see other groups of people as US instead of THEM? Not too long ago, we were both in elementary school, we both have similar wants and fears, and we probably aren’t that far apart in what we hope for. We simply need to have some compassion and understanding for each other and we need to talk reasonably to each other so we can work some of these things out.
The next time we begin a sentence with they, or the Democrats or Republicans, I hope we remember that THEY are a part of US. My suspicion is that it will make a difference.
Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and the soon-to-be released Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary and Too Many Podcasters podcasts. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!