Liza May

Us and Them


I don't know about you, but I have been in a complete fog since the election.

What I know:

We are not all the same, but we do have things in common.

We have two legs. We sweat. We like to laugh. We are storytellers. We are wary of strangers.

Strangers, as in "Them."

I know that we are "Us and Them" creatures. We are made that way.

Meaning that I am loyal to my family. Not to your family. I may like you, but you're not family. There's a difference. You don't have the same last name. You're not "One of Us."

I know that I am more loyal to my distant relatives than to your distant relatives. I'm more loyal to my religion than yours, and to "my" team, my church, my college, my country, my people.

I have nothing against yours - yours is good too. It's just not mine. We are different, you and I, and we know that we're different. We can't not know it.

This is not a bad thing. It's not bad that we're different, and it's not bad that we can see it. And even if it were bad it wouldn't matter anyway, because we are made to notice differences. We can't NOT notice differences. We have hyper-sensitive "Stranger-Radar" working 24/7 on continual high-alert, scanning to detect the tiniest aberrations, anything out of the ordinary, including anything strange or different even among those closest to us.

Because you never know. A change in normal appearance/sound/smell/behavior could mean something's not right, it could indicate a possible threat to our children, or to other members of our group. "A stranger in our midst" always sounds at least vaguely suspicious, even when it's a happy stranger. "Differentness" is very, very important to us

Having a bias against differentness is a good thing. It has served us well.

It's why we tell our kids, "Don't talk to strangers."

We do not tell our kids, "You should always trust strangers."

We notice differences. And we like them sometimes. Sometimes we even marry them. Then they're not "strangers" anymore. They are no longer "Them," they are "Us." It's fluid.

We are cooperative, too. We prefer to be cooperative, for selfish reasons. It works better than being uncooperative, even with compromise as part of the deal. Being cooperative is less risky than being uncooperative; than getting what you want by cheating, intimidation, or force.

So mostly, we cooperate.

Despite the unspeakable stupidity of war and human folly, we mostly -- for most of human history, in most of our day-to-day interactions and relationships; for most of the hours of our lives -- we are cooperating with others, getting along with people, rather than fighting with them.

Because we prefer it. We are cooperative by nature.

So that's who we are. We are "Us and Them" creatures. And we prefer to get along with each other rather than to clash. Not all of us, not all of the time. But most of us, most of the time.

I don't know if it helps to recognize this about our nature. I do know that it does not help to pretend that there are no differences between us, or that we don't, or shouldn't, notice them.

That misunderstanding leads to the bigger misunderstanding, that if I want better for myself I must want worse for you.

It leads to the mistaken idea that advocating for one group means you're advocating against another group. It leads to the misguided notion that "Black Lives Matter" means "White Lives Don't Matter." That I cannot speak out on behalf of my people because in so doing I am speaking out against yours.

Every parent of two children knows that this is not true. All of my children's lives matter. "Give me a cookie!" does not mean "Don't give her a cookie!"

If you know children you might be smiling, because you know that "Give me a cookie" does sometimes mean, "And don't give HER one."   We smile because it's funny to see our own baser instincts reflected in a four-year-old. Children show us our true natures, without the politeness and obfuscation useful to adults. They show us that sometimes we do wish bad things for others.

But mostly not. Mostly we prefer to cooperate.

Mostly we are "Us And Them"   We are not "Us Against Them."

We see our differences, we are predisposed to be wary of them, and we are also predisposed to cooperate with each other. Despite our differences. Sometimes, even, because of them.

Trying to condense into a few words the chaos of thoughts in my head is difficult. I'm a slow thinker and a very slow writer.

What's prompting me is witnessing, for a year now, a massive international "Melt Down" - my own included. Seeing what seems to me utter confusion, even among astute thinkers and writers, regarding the sociology, psychology, game theory, cultural shifts, economics, political forces, and historical rhythms, of 2016.

I have so much to say, but I am inadequate as a writer. I feel the same about writing as I do about dance: I don't have the tools to express myself. It's intensely frustrating, especially in dire moments like this which we are now experiencing, where, if only I could say what I mean, I might, somehow, be able to help provide clarity or insight.

I admit I am writing a kind of "Kumbayah" piece - not only because I'm a hippy and the world is crying out for comfort. But what's more important to me is the conviction that it will be impossible to make sense of the turbulence of the moment without a profound - not a superficial or false - understanding of the people involved. All the people. All the "Us's and Them's." All the supposedly incompatible, irreconcilable, unequal, unsimilar, unharmonious, uncooperative Us's and Them's.

I feel hopeful. In my clearer moments, when I can calm myself down enough to think; between waves of panic, despair, terror, incredulity, outrage, and depression; when I ponder what I know about history, math, and human nature, I am hopeful.

I would like you to be hopeful too.

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