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most of us of a certain age will immediately recognize those three words as a reference to West Side Story, a mid-20th century retelling of the Romeo and Juliet saga, set in NYC, with  "American" and Puerto Rican gangs standing for Capulets and Montagues, and the tragic consequences that flow therefrom, despite the very human connection of Tony and Maria.  

This morning I was reflecting on how many Us versus Them frames dominate our thinking

Clearly here we think of Democrats versus Republicans

Whites versus Blacks

Catholics versus Protestants

North versus South

Management versus Labor

Capitalists versus Communists

Christians versus Muslims

Christians versus Jews

...  please keep reading

Muslim versus Hindu

Sunni versus Shi'ite

Liberals versus Republicans

Tea Party versus RINO

Progressives versus DINO

Hindu versus Buddhist

Cowboys versus Indians (Redskins?)

Yankees versus Red Sox

There is something seemingly comforting in identifying one's own group as in opposition to some other group, upon which one's insecurity can be deposited in the form of hatred, demeaning, attempting to convert one's fear into some sense of superiority

Americans versus "terrorists"

boys versus girls

And yet, once we begin this process, where does it end?  Into how many categories of opposition can we divide ourselves??  I think of words from an old song by the Chad Mitchell Trio, "The John Birch Society,"  that there's no one left but we and thee, and we're not so sure about thee.

Cops versus Robbers

Patriots versus Traitors

Hutu versus Tutsi

Makers versus Takers

These divisions can have tragic consequences, as those of one group us them as a rationale to oppress or attempt to destroy the perceived opponent

Moderates versus Extremists

Too often the divisions are made artificially

Indians versus Pakistanis

Iranians versus Iraqis

Serbs versus Croats

"Europeans" versus everyone else

Americans versus everyone else

the 99% versus the 1%

and too often when we are within our group we are reluctant to see how these divisions, which may be useful insofar as understanding differences, can also be limiting of our own lives and experience, and destructive to all.

Perhaps the most famous campaign advertisement of all time officially ran only once, on September 7, 1964.  It was called "Daisy":

That text has always resonated with me, and I cannot get away from it, because I always share this among the political ads my Government students watch.

The first sentence:  These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark.

To divide, whether for political, social, economic, nationalistic, religious or any other reason can too quickly contribute to a world in which we do not believe that all of God's children can live.  It is to go into the dark.

And the second: We must either love each other, or we must die.

The inevitable result of refusing to acknowledge the "other" category as not merely equal to our own, as fully human as we consider ourselves to be, is to start the process of dying.

It is bad enough that we thereby deny ourselves the richness of humanity taken together.

Too easily we degenerate into war, metaphorical or actual.

Let me be clear.

I have been an athlete and a coach.  I have no trouble with competition, with trying to win the contest at hand.

That contest can be athletic.

It can be political.

If we  become consumed by winning at any cost, then the profound words of Pogo will become true for us:

We have met the enemy, and he is us."

As one politically active, I am well aware of the argument that unwillingness to counter whatever the "enemy" is willing to use is to concede defeat.

That mentality was very present as I grew up:

Better Dead than Red!

There is a strand that resonates through our history, perhaps clearly seen in the warning by the man most historians consider our greatest President, Mr. Lincoln, who warned that the nation could not continue half slave and half free.

Lincoln's observation was true, yet this same man thought preserving the Union a greater priority than moving immediately to ban slavery.

Yet his expressions on slavery clearly contributed to the fear of many of the slave-owning class that he would move to abolish slavery, as he eventually did.

I have some gift with words.

Words have consequences.

How I use words can contribute to a culture of violence and division, or it can seek to overcome the the divides that too often hurt so many.

Sometimes the divides seem rational, yet create a framing that can limit our understanding of our mutuality:

Teachers versus Students

wherein we see our roles as oppositional rather than complementary.

I claim no great insight.  People have said - and written - far more eloquently than can I on this and related topics.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.

If in the inevitable disputes I will have with those with whom I have real differences, I lose sight of her humanity, than I have lost sight of my own.

Because I understand this, I have no excuse for behavior that ignores that understanding.

Because I am human, I will fail at times to live up to what this requires of me, and perhaps is the reason that the words of George Fox, that we must walk gladly across the earth answering that of God in each person we encounter, speak so loudly to me.

Perhaps because I have wandered through multiple religions and seen them from the inside, I am more sensitive that I otherwise might have been.

I do not know.

I offer these words because they were on my mind today, and I thought they might speak to someone else.

Us versus Them, Good Guys versus Bad Guys, however it is framed, it is a sundering of our common humanity.

Jets versus Sharks.

Hatfields versus McCoys.

We must either love each other, or we must die.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (16+ / 0-)

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Fri Aug 16, 2013 at 05:38:19 AM PDT

  •  And When you're a jet, you're a jet from your (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz

    first cigarette to your last dying day!

    So, there's no escape; it starts with the kids, and the cycle goes on and on.

    Ayn sucks. Please know I am not rude. I cannot rec anything from this browser. When I rec or post diaries I am a guest at some exotic locale's computer.

    by Floyd Blue on Fri Aug 16, 2013 at 05:45:40 AM PDT

    •  You've got to be carefully taught... (0+ / 0-)

      before it's too late,
      before you are six, or seven, or eight

      You've got to be carefully taught
      to hate all the people
      your relatives hate...

      "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

      by chimene on Fri Aug 16, 2013 at 01:53:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We define ourselves by what we are not (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz

    As much as we define ourselves by what we are.

    I am THIS.
    I am THAT.
    I am absolutely NOT THAT.

    These choices tend to define human beings, and whether we like it or not, it puts us at contrast that chose the reverse of us.

    I am not as bothered by "Us Vs. Them" as you are, Ken.. I think it's a big part of the nature of the species.   But I think what is happening now isn't a matter of natural separation and disagreement, instead, I would say that often those choices are crucial to us loving each other; it helps us form reasons why we care for another person.. they feel and think as we do, etc.. those choices just define us.

    Now, when you get to more complex philosophical "I am X, you are Y", then the problem isn't the definition, it's the rigidity behind it to refuse discussion into that decision.  It's OK to still stay "us vs them", just as long as their isn't hatred.

    In many cases we keep this together.. Yankees Fans Vs. Red Sox Fans.. they may be "against" each other, but when they leave (most) of them are OK working with each other, friends with each other, and it's a good ribbing between the two.

    It's a fine line in keeping what makes us human.. and being crazy :)

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Fri Aug 16, 2013 at 06:23:01 AM PDT

  •  There's a degree of tribalism involved (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    how much that is hard wired into our species, I do not know.

    Certainly, professional sports has learned how to make monstrous amounts of money capitalizing on tribalism, with politics not far behind (albeit, to greater effect).

    The "us vs. them" frame is easily exploited, but, like the French Revolution, can spin out of control.

    We also find the "us vs. them" frame leading to tragic results coupled with the hyper-militarization of our local Police Departments and with the spread of "Stand Your Ground" laws.

    Would George Zimmerman have accosted Trayvon Martin if Trayvon was seen as "us" rather than "them?"

    "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." - Tom Robbins - Political Compass sez: -8.25, -7.90

    by ARS on Fri Aug 16, 2013 at 06:37:00 AM PDT

  •  in Vedantic Hinduism (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh, teacherken

    a key saying is "tat tvam asi," which is rendered as
    "that art thou," or sometimes
    "thou art that."

    It is a call to recognize our identity with any and all object of our attention.  Not "there but for the grace of God go I," but there AM I.

    It has lots of echoes in the Western tradition, from "whatever you have done unto the least of these...." to John Donne's "No man is an island...."

    I find it hard to keep in mind all of the time, but I work on it.

    A separate thought:  arrogance and "us vs. them" thinking go together.  Suddenly I see the consistency between the Christian message praising humility and advocating "love your enemy."

  •  Young versus old (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, brae70, IndieGuy

    shows up a fair amount and is part of the attacks on pensions and social security.

    Acknowledging the interdependence of people of all generations, faiths and backgrounds would go far to alleviating the self-imposed stresses of separation and division and the resulting fear and hatred.

    Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

    by barbwires on Fri Aug 16, 2013 at 08:32:08 AM PDT

  •  I thought it was referencing a hockey game (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    between the Winnipeg Jets and the San Jose Sharks.

  •  Shouldn't it be (0+ / 0-)
    Capitalists versus Communists everybody

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Fri Aug 16, 2013 at 12:57:01 PM PDT

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