What’s the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’?

I recently participated in a meeting. But this wasn’t your regular “I wish I was anywhere else” kind of meeting. It was a gathering of over 50 people from across the world convened by author and academic Chris Kutarna. This gathering was around a metaphorical campfire where we looked into the question of “What’s the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’?”.

The meeting, called “Basecamp“, wasn’t looking for specific answers. It was seeking to explore. To make people think. To accept that uncertainty is the driver of great conversation and that it leads us to thinking about challenges in new ways.

When addressing this question I came to a new realisation.

One difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is about ‘haves” and ‘have nots”.

Some people can walk down a street without fear of being stopped by the police because of the colour of their skin. Others can’t afford a roof over their head or food. Some cant access the health care they need. Or get an education. Others are denied a fair salary because of their gender.

The list of things some people have, thus giving them a life of relative privilege, that others don’t have and may never have is long.

Entire groups of people have been stripped of self determination through invasion, colonialism and marginalisation.

Whenever we generalise about a group of people we treat them as a homogeneous group, denying them their individuality. We are making them in “have nots” as we take away the self determination of those individuals. When we say all the people that vote for a particular politician are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we disregard that there may be a broad diversity of views in that group on the basis of one decision that may have been made for a reason we aren’t aware of.

As humans, our brains are designed to generalise. We take in millions of stimuli each day. If we didn’t generalise and create rules, our brains would be overloaded with decisions to make. But when we do this people, we strip them of their individuality. Instead, we need to see and treat person as an individual with their own mix of experiences, background and culture.

Where we disagree, we need to be respectful. We need to spend more time listening than talking. The old adage of having two ears and one mouth rings true. We need to spend twice as much time listening as talking. Everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. It’s from dissension that we can learn more and broaden our views and perspectives.

When we see or hear someone whose view differs from ours we should take a moment to think about where they come from. What has been taken from them or given to us that makes us think of ‘us’ and ‘them’?