Us and Them, All In The Same Boat
Recently, I was invited to share my thoughts on ‘us/them‘ dynamics and conflict resolution at a Peace House of Ashland sponsored gathering in southern Oregon. I relish every opportunity to contribute what I know to the benefit of people trying to live their values and walk their talk. And because thoughts of such things are a normal part of how I think, I spent a great deal of time thinking about what to say. I think it’s a very big deal, and I’m going to blog about this for the few weeks.
I am you as you are me as you are we and we are all together. – John Lennon, I Am The Walrus
First, thanks for the opportunity to share this with you. Since you’re reading my blog, I’m going to make certain assumptions about you that will allow me to talk more freely to you, more open to talk about deeper things than I typically do. For me to be comfortable doing that, I must assume that you’re the kind of person I can trust with such openness.
So I assume you are doing the best you can to live the best life you can, that you’re intelligent and discerning to the best of your ability. I assume there are people you care about and you want them to be safe. I assume that if you have kids, you dream of a better future for them. And while you and I may disagree on exactly how to attend to these things, I assume that we can agree broadly with the ideas themselves.
I also make assumptions about you as part of us that allows me to interact and make new connections and friends. Because I see the connection between how we are as a society and who we are as individuals. I think our collective health and wisdom depend on our individual health and wisdom. And while I recognize and value the meaningful differences between us as individuals, as cultures, and as nation-states, it is obvious to me that we have more in common than we do to divide us, and that realizing our individual dreams may require that we realize some of our shared dreams first.
Shared dreams and ideals is obviously a broad idea, and the devil is certainly in the details. Just look at a dymaxion map (That’s one up in the corner of this post. The Dymaxion map is the first accurate map of the planet when laid out on a flat surface. It was originally developed by Buckminster Fuller, and you can order your own map and other dymaxion artifacts here) and you’ll see a very different view of things. You will find that there is simply no escape from a fundamental and increasingly apparent fact of life. This is our only planet and we all have to share it. We don’t have a backup if we make a mistake, if we break it or bomb it or leave it to ruin. One planet, with one island, in one ocean. There’s one race, the human race, and as fellow passengers on this spaceship Earth, we have a shared destiny. What’s that destiny going to be? As far as I’m concerned that’s the one conversation that we need to be having internationally, because without agreement to this, there’s no possibility for a real dialog.
Ironically, peace on Earth and goodwill towards all is not some new idea. I’ve seen and heard its expression in various forms throughout my travels and reading. Many, if not most, of the world’s great religions (and I don’t mean great as in WOW they are great religions, but rather as in WOW they really have a lot of believers!) speak of peace as a desirable goal. A better tomorrow was what our ancestors worked towards, it’s why we’re here, and it’s what many of my relatives, readers and friends work towards now. And I think it’s safe to say that for those of us who enjoy our freedom, live with security and strive for a better world, order and fairness are preferable to disorder and arbitrary uses of power. Given the same choice, I’m guessing that most of the citizens of the world would agree.
Problem is, this is Earth, and life is hard here. It’s not fair to all, not even to most. Far too many people live without security, without even their most basic needs being met. Far too many are occupied too often with the daily struggle to survive for them to give even a moment’s thought to the meaning of peace.
I, on the other hand, am like you. I have the luxury, and I want both peace and justice for all of humanity. I want there to be truth and reconciliation wherever people are in conflict (even when it seems impossible, as it once did in S. Africa) I want everyone to have the freedoms I have, because in such a world shared dreams would not just be a broad idea, it would be a big obvious idea that would be easily embraced.
We, the people, have much in common, wherever in the world you find us. Indeed, we have so much in common because we’re all in the same boat, and as the size of our problems grows, we’re going to sink or swim together.
There is plenty of room here in our little boat for some serious disagreement, whether we seek it out or not. That’s because, paradoxically, we are all so very different. Each of us is unique. And the near-infinite number of ways we come together demonstrate this, because there are so many subgroups that we have the option to identify with. There’s culture. Nationality. Race. Gender. Social class. Politics. Sports. Sports team. Entertainment. Emotion. Intelligence. Career choice. Values. Needs. Criteria. Pick a profession and you find it has specialties. Like maturing ecosystems, the longer we hold something together, the more fractions within it form. And in finding our areas of disagreement, we inevitably must make the distinction between me and you, us and them.
And history shows that, outside of the sports arena, it’s a loser’s game to come at differences as opponents. More on this in my next post.
Your comments and feedback are welcome here.
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.