Thursday, April 9, 2009

That, them, those

I was thinking the other morning about the words of separation, the words which define "the other" in our minds and in our speech patterns.

It is no surprise that we have such words, as it is the single-greatest illusion under which we operate: that there is a real separation between our tribe and all others, our sports-team fans and all others, and, at the most-basic level, between ourselves and all others.

When I am holding something in my hand, it is "this." When you are holding it in your hand, I would call it, "that." This, and that. Here, and there. Mine, yours.

Me and all my peeps? We are "us." All others are "them."

In the current state of severe polarization, where (at least in this country) it seems no longer possible to disagree without going nuclear, the most-powerful word of the sort I am describing is, "those." It is those Republicans, or those White House socialists, or those obstructionists or those people seeking to tax us into oblivion. Those.

My days, when not spent on my job (which, currently, is to find one), are spent now in search of the rays of light in this ridiculously self-created darkness. I'm looking to learn about the people who are seeking to bridge gaps which are delusions in the first place. One would think that, if the gap is not real, it would be easier to eliminate than an actual chasm. In fact, the truth is, it is doubly difficult.

Messing with people's mythic beliefs is dangerous work. Particularly when you challenge those illusions which have no basis in fact, you are on the highway to a smackdown.

For this reason, I have all the more respect for those who disregard the hazard and move forward: folks who create programs to bring small groups of teenagers together from Israel and Palestine; people who seek to build a framework within which Americans of firmly held and opposite political views can have civil discussion to better understand where each comes from; grass-roots efforts to bring homeless people not just off the streets, but into productive roles in our world.

It is a time of great turmoil, a time where chaos reigns more than calm. It is precisely this instability which allows a space within which we can build connection, community, consensus. Of course, the chaotic nature of today lends itself equally well to increased polarization, demonization, separation created from fear alone.

My choice has been to focus on the thin threads of light. I'm holding the center while we build the rest.

Today, in my internally generated world, there are still "those" and probably will be for some time. What I believe, though, is that my "those" is less-firmly held than it was a week, a month, a year ago. I'll keep reeling them in, and they will be part of "us" soon enough. I know that, the sooner I accept them, the sooner they can begin to accept me.


Lynilu said...

I've caught myself "them-ing" in my speech recently, making generalizations about certain groups, or more accurately, about their labels. I've been working on letting it go, too.

I used to be moderate in everything, and I'm not much liking the change in myself. I still think I'm moderate with liberal leanings, but I've allowed some bad traits to take root. It's OK to stand up for what I believe, but if it comes to the point of causing chasms with people I care about, then I need to rethink. I'm also trying to balance this with standing firm on issues that I see as "world changing."

Just when we think we've reached the point of life in which we can kick back and relax because things are in order .... well, let's just say I work on the concept that it is always a process, not a result, or a journey, not a destination.

Sometimes I just want the destination.

Rick Hamrick said...


I greatly appreciate your open and willing contributions here.

It is a serious consideration for me, that of how to respond when one's supposed opponent reacts completely off the scale.

My conclusion? Hold fast. No yelling, no drama, just hold.

No, I have no evidence that this works, but I continue to employ the strategy.

Julie said...

While I am most certainly can not describe myself as moderate when it comes to politics, I do try very hard to find the common thread in a discussion, provided there is some mutual respect at first. I guess abortion would be a good example - while I am pro-choice, I think the common thread is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.(I think education is the answer, while hard core fundies believe in abstinence programs.)
I admire the passion people have when discussing their beliefs, but sadly, I don't think we are good at listening - and I've got to admit that I fit this mold too.

Rick Hamrick said...

Thanks for chiming in, Julie!

I love your idea of seeking common ground--it is very much at the heart of all the "let's meet where we can" programs I have read about.

Months ago, I touched base with a lady of severe conservative values who lives in Texas, and once I realized that we could not meet in the political arena, I fell back on telling her about my five years in Texas as a kid.

No, there was no substantive meeting of the minds, but I know that, if someone asked her if I was an okay guy, she would say yes. And I would say she was a good person, as well.

That's the most-basic point from which we can start: do I believe you are okay? Can I trust you? All that agreement stuff can come later.