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Us vs. Them

Last night I played for a corporate meeting in someone’s mansion high in the hills.  The meeting was for an organization of expats all from a particular foreign country (which I won’t name) now living in the US.  There was a panel of 3 very high-powered businesspeople (the likes of whom had held personal business meetings with people like ex-President Clinton and the President of Liberia.)  Towards the end of the talk I had developed a rancid taste in my mouth.  Let’s call this group of people who were from a particular country ‘The Greens’.  The Greens went on to talk about the traits of “their people” in regard to business and life.  The more they talked the more they seemed to be truly separating themselves – and believe me, there were 4 or 5″Blues” in the room who were clearly shifty, offended or uncomfortable.  “The Greens see through bullshit”, “The Greens are harder working and have little patience for incompetence or people who need to be coddled.”  It was clear to me that they really deemed themselves superior.

For the love of God, when is nationalism going to go away? It is an archaic idea and has long since outlived its function.  It is one thing to be proud of where you’re from and to have confidence, but as they continued to speak this confidence quickly bled across the line into arrogance, a superiority complex and an inherent “us vs. them” mentality.  So many countries have this issue – we all carry this tumor in our own ways.  I once lived with a first generation American (her parents were Chinese) and she readily admitted that the Chinese think they’re smarter than everyone else.  But she seemed to say it matter-of-factly, almost as if she believed it to be partly true, having been so deeply ingrained by her parents.  Please tell me how can one country (which is nothing more than a longitude and latitude on the map) own personal traits?  This is so ignorant.  Matthew Fox a modern day mystic and author once wrote in his book “Wrestling with the Prophets”:

“For there is no such thing as a Lutheran sun and a Taoist moon, a Jewish ocean and a Roman Catholic forest.”

Thank you, Mystic Matthew! By the same token how can Chinese own the copyright on smart, New Zealanders on entertaining and entrepreneurial, Japanese on innovative or Germans on being organized??  This is ridiculous.  Those traits are in and belong to all human beings and no one gets to claim a patent on any of them to the exclusion of others.  This type of thinking just like fervent association with any religion is the illusion that separates.  And people seem to really enjoy propagating such illusions for their own egos – whether out of insecurity or a need to oppress in order to control and to prevail, it doesn’t matter.  

Even though my exposure to this thinking towards the end of the night just seemed like a mild irritant to me, I can clearly see the grave danger of this seed-level thinking.  I daresay that some of the pronouncements made in that room about how ‘Greens’ are, would not have been so openly shared in mixed company (say of Blues, Reds, Browns and Yellows.)  What was slightly disturbing was that it was a fairly homogenous group of people so they could speak freely without censoring their true feelings, they were wearing no burkas of political correctness.  For example, on the ride home ‘The Green’ who was taking me home was having a conversation with ‘The Other Green’ in the front seat about her husband always talking about ‘The Bloody Blue’s.’  According to her eyes, I am ‘A Blue’ and naturally have those traits.  Realizing what she had said, she quickly backtracked and made the qualifier that I was welcome in her home because it would be nice to have a “positive Blue influence” in the house.  Ummmm…..WTF!?

It is this nationalism and us vs. them mentality and this very kind of thinking that sent millions of people to the ovens.  It was the seed of the German thought that they truly believed with every fiber of their being (at least some of them) that they were indeed superior – they were poisoned and brainwashed.  This type of illusory thinking is learned. To have this type of belief and put people in boxes is not only ignorant but incredibly dangerous.  We need to start ripping down these barriers and walls; the timing is overdue.  At the risk of sounding cliche We Are All One.  As long as someone is trumpeting a particular religious sect or positive quality with their country, race, or group of people then We Are Not One, but we are an amalgamation of several little boxes pushed up against each other, the walls of which are not only illusory but completely susceptible to abuse of oppression and ego-centric thinking and behavior which always separates.

We all still do the box thing; let’s keep tearing down those walls and open our mouths to break down illusions when it would seem unpopular, politically incorrect or provocative.  Superiority complexes in groups of people are frightful ways to behave and wholly unnecessary.  Such beliefs are  deeply rooted in fear and an ‘other than’ and us vs. them.

The solution then is to realize that when we dig a hole in our side of the boat it’s going to affect the person on the other end – oh yeah, and us too.  We’re not doing anyone anyone favors by siphoning ourselves off into categories and proclaiming particular labels or qualities onto ourselves because we happen to live at 41 S, 174 E on the globe and our neighbor happens to live at 64 N, 26 E.  It is easy to keep the illusion of separation with our languages, cultures, man-made borders, fears, wars and media.  Throw joyous or tragic circumstances at any human being and you will find that he will react and respond the same.  We all have deep reserves of courage, genius, creativity, perserverance, honesty, and tenacity, just as we all have smaller ways of reacting.  What we need to remember is that 30 or 40,000 feet up in a plane instantly takes that illusion away, and we remember how small we can be on the ground (both literally and figuratively) and that we really are  One.

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