The human race is not a jigsaw puzzle. We’re not perfectly shaped pieces that all fit into a greater whole, together forming a perfect image. Instead — whether by grace, fate, or coincidence, depending on your beliefs — we are jagged-edged oddities, each one misshapen and clunky, each one reaching out for a sense of belonging.
We all have our flaws. That’s common knowledge, sure, but something that can’t be repeated enough. And probably one of the human race’s worst tendencies — if not the worst tendency — is our terrible urge to tribalize. To fragment. To sort ourselves into categories. To differentiate between a supposedly good, just, and moral “us”… and to then contrast this so-called us against a diametrically opposed “them,” who is supposedly unkind, unjust, and immoral.
This line of thinking bottles entire groups of people according to a handful of exaggerated traits, ripping away each person’s individuality. Thankfully, human language has also given us a term to bottle such behavior into, and that term is prejudice.
It’s an ugly word, isn’t it? But a fittingly ugly word, for an equally ugly behavior.
Every day, all across the world, we see entire groups of people boxed into the “Other” label. We see racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Class warfare. Religious groups pigeonhole other religious groups according to their most extreme members. Belief systems are mocked. The older and younger generations both blame each other for society’s woes. The sick, the disabled, and the mentally ill are written off as less than human. When you’re at work, even first shift and second shift always blame everything on each other, or perhaps both of them blame it all on third shift. In each case, it all comes down to one group blaming their problems on a monstrous Other.
Here’s the truth, though. The brutal truth.
The Other is exactly like you. In both a cosmic sense and a physical one, every single member of the Other — a carbon-based lifeform, a fleshy sack of muscles, bones, and tendons wrapped up in skin, combined with hopes, dreams, and perhaps a soul — has more in common with you than you can possibly imagine.
The Other has reasons for the way they think. The Other can’t control the social, environmental, or genetic features that have determined their birth, beliefs, and appearance. To write off the Other is to believe that your narrow view of the world, so much of which has been determined by your surroundings and personal history, is the only view that matters. It’s hard to get more solipsistic than that.
There is no Other. The Other is you.
When you travel around the world, when you go from “developed” nations to “developing” countries, when you see the rich and the poor, one lesson that hammers itself home forever is the fact that no matter where you go, people are always the same. People are people. People laugh, cry, and dream. Children play games. Families eat together.
Despite this, certain cultures and groups of people not only have become marginalized, but the oppression they have faced has lasted for generations. Time goes on, but stereotypes persist.
Perhaps ending tribalization is impossible. It’s been a part of human civilization since the beginning, after all. But if we at least attempt to recognize it any time it rears its ugly head, to see it in our world instead of denying that it exists, we can start moving in the right direction. If we fight back against the voices that tell us to segment, to stereotype, to pigeonhole, then we can properly open up the floor for real discussions that need to be had.
If each of us makes the best effort we can to accept others, to have real conversations, then maybe there’s a chance of breaking down the boundaries.