I’ve been intrigued lately in my observations of people’s behavior and tendencies. For those of you who know me well, that’s about 90% of what I do, so let me assure you, there’s a solid body of insight that’s gone into this.
Here’s the thing I’ve noticed- and it’s not something new. It has nothing to do with systemic racism, pandemics, global fires and storms, or anything else specifically that we’ve faced as a worldwide community in just five months of 2020. (2020 has been the longest 10 years of my life.)
It has everything to do with our personal desires to make ourselves out to be the protagonist in our own stories. We want to be the good guy. We have this instinctive moral imperative almost built into us that we have to be the good guy. Otherwise, by name alone, we are not good. And from day one, that is what nearly all of us are taught to be. Good.
But in order to do this, we’ve taught ourselves that there must be “bad guys” for our “goodness” to overcome. It’s in every story from the dawn of time. Good triumphs over evil. And if there is no evil, what is it that good is to do?
So many of us take it upon ourselves to begin vilifying others. Others who don’t agree with us. Others who don’t look like us. Don’t act like us. Are brought up the same way we are. Because in order for good to triumph, there must be something for it to conquer.
What I see on all of your feeds, in the media cycles, and in conversation, is that those who surround themselves with people who don’t necessarily look, act, or think alike are much more likely to have empathy in your interactions. You allow yourselves to be challenged and are willing to see things from other perspectives. And there’s a lot less vilifying because the lens you see the world is much more about a collective “us” and doing good in the world to improve things.
There are many others, however, who surround themselves only with people who look, act, and think the same. This homogeneity breeds extreme empathy for those who share this sameness, but is quick to ostracize anyone or anything that doesn’t fit that sameness. You will aggressively defend things you’re passionately for, and aggressively attack things you are passionately against. You see yourself as inherently the “good guy” and that all people like you are also “good”. By your own definition, if someone wants to prove that they are “good”, they must adhere to your own standards and conform in some measure to your sliding scale of rightness/righteousness. This is a lens that has to see the world as “us versus them” and looks to ensure that “good defeats evil”.
But here’s the thing. I know as you are reading this, many of you are desperately defining yourself in one group and immediately categorizing others you know into the other group. Creating another Us vs Them and proving that you’re also on the side of “good” wanting to triumph over an oppressive “evil”. We can’t win, can we?
Who’s the real villain in any arguments across the aisle? Left side? Right side? See, anytime we make efforts to belittle and dehumanize any one group, none of us win.
You want to know who the true villain is? The aisle. The divide. The thing that’s saying it’s impossible for two sides to come together because the chasm is too deep. And you know what the champions of evil look like? The ones who insist that the aisle is necessary.
“Us” isn’t inherently good or bad. “Them” isn’t inherently good or bad. “Versus” makes everything bad. Every time. Don’t allow those thoughts to continue. In your conversations. In your politics. In your ability to have empathy with fellow humanity. If you want to tear down division, start by removing the thing that divides. Address every person, every system, and every issue with the delicacy it deserves. Not with a broad brush meant to easily categorize and shove aside. But with a gentle touch, knowing that the evidence of every masterpiece is in its subtleties, not its generalities.
“As it is written: None is righteous, no, not one.”