All humans are fundamentally selfish. This is what makes it difficult for us to related to anyone that is different than us. It is the tragedy of What Divides Us.
In this article we will explore the fundamental fault lines that divide us into groups. Once separated these relationships may take on a distinct form of hostility as misunderstanding and offenses multiply.
Every line of separation is used to acknowledge my superiority and to identify those unlike me as inferior. This distinctions become deeply engrained over time and are largely invisible to each of us.
It is very easy to spot the prejudice of others but almost impossible to see our own. Will hold our personal superiority (or inferiority) as a self-evident truth. This allows us to justify all manner of beastly behavior.
There are many aspects of culture that come into play. Ethnicity and language typically are the starting point for separating us by culture. But there are many other more subtle differences that can drive our prejudices. Skin color can be a strong indicator of people that similar to me.
Culture is defined by any group that shares a common set of values and beliefs, which naturally translate into distinctive behaviors for the members of the group. Any group that can be identified can form a subculture.
All groups naturally are segmented into subcultures. How else could we quickly separate the good people from the bad ones? The people that are most like me are placed in the Us group and the rest are relegated to the Them group. This is the fundamental basis of racism and every other form of prejudice.
Wealth is an easy way to separate people. Haves and Have Nots, Rich and Poor. If I'm rich I am suspicious of all poor people knowing that they want to prey on my prosperity. If I'm poor I am suspicious of the rich who hoard their wealth at my expense.
On both sides of this divide there is a mythology that supports our moral outrage. The morality myth justifies our hostility or indifference by placing the blame on the other group for creating the discrepancy. Poor people are lazy; rich people are selfish and uncaring. The true story is that all people are lazy, selfish, and uncaring.
Wealth and Power are closely linked because the wealthy desire all of the power in order to protect their wealth. While the poor are powerless to gain wealth in a system that has been created to hold them down. The very purpose of an empire is to protect the rights of the wealthy and powerful.
The success of any empire can be measured by how effectively it protects the privileges of the ruling class against the needs of the common people. Class warfare is built into the very fabric of the goals for every empire. In our time, unfettered capitalism is how we live the life of empire. It is how we keep the powerful rich and weak poor .
There are biological differences between men and women that can easily become the basis for conflict between us. From the Taliban to the Baptists there are many religious groups that seek to institutionalize these differences by defining specific roles that are permitted by each gender.
Male domination seems to be the typical way that this plays out, although theoretically there could be cultures that adopt a female domination ethic. Traditional gender roles become the most important aspect of many societies and an easy way to separate people into good and bad groups.
In general, the more a religious and Right-leaning they are, the more that they equate traditional gender roles with morality. Feminism is viewed as a threat that is capable of destroying our normal happy life, where males rule and females serve.
Every life stage has its own world view, its own wisdom, its own truth, its own idiocy. Between the life stages there is a fundamental gap of understanding. You can't walk in my shoes because they don't fit you!
At every life stage we have a very specific world view based on the reality of the life we see around us. The view of the truth is so strong that it blinds us to the reality that is experienced by others. We naturally believe that we all share a reality and are perplexed by the idiocy of others.
Mind the gap.
The celebrated generation gap has been around since the beginning. A twenty-something and sixty-something live in different worlds. They could never possibly understand each other, but they can respect one another and choose to be polite. That is the essence of civility.
Life stage defines my experience and reality. My values, beliefs, and behaviors are determined by my life stage. My generation (those within ten years of my age) get me while no one else does. The further away others are in age, the more outrageous and frustrating their conduct and attitudes appear to me.
I must make a conscious effort to recognize that everyone lives in the reality of their current stage of life. I must choose to allow them to have their own reality without desiring to force mine upon them. Easy to say, hard to do.
Living in harmony with others is extremely unnatural. These four fracture planes and many others threaten to tear us apart. Every interaction that we have with anyone is affected by these issues. If left unchecked we all become increasingly isolated and lonely.
As irritating as others are, we were all built for relationship. But this takes serious work. We must be willing to bridge all of the gaps between us in order to come together. Only then can we experience the joy of interacting with others that are not just like us. The more we reach out the richer our lives will be.