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Forum nameOkay Activist Archives
Topic subjectNot wholly on point
Topic URLhttp://board.okayplayer.com/okp.php?az=show_topic&forum=22&topic_id=22304&mesg_id=22309
22309, Not wholly on point
Posted by janey, Thu Aug-17-00 06:02 AM
or maybe it is, although not as a historical matter. Just to judge from the posts on these boards, which confirms my own experience, don't you find that the first reaction that people have to anything that differs from them is fear and mistrust?

When we look at what we identify as "Self" and what we identify as "Other" -- or "Us" and "Them" -- we establish hierarchies of who we are willing to include in our circle. There's a small group of people that we think of as family, then maybe there's friends, and then there are Like Minded Individuals that we might include, and then there are these ever-widening circles in which we include ourselves: Chicagoans, Democrats, Americans, etc.

And we're willing to extend ourselves to the smaller circle, even to our own detriment (I'll give my sister money if she needs it, without asking for it back. Or I'll take a leave of absence from work so I can be with my mother while she's ill.). But I have to draw a line, right, because I can't take a leave of absence from work to nurse the homeless stranger down the street. So I have to classify him as "other" or else I won't have a way to distinguish between who I'm willing to extend myself to and who I'm not.

So there's some comfort in saying "Not like me" because it wraps us in a cocoon beyond which we don't have to reach. And that distinction -- Not Like Me -- then can take on a life of its own. I know that I'm not willing to help those who are Not Like Me, so I can guess that they're not willing to help me, so that makes them, if not my enemy, then at least competitive with me. And then I end up with these hierarchies of

Like Me = comfortable, supportive, good, right
Not Like Me = threatening, competitive, bad, wrong

So the more willing we are to see different as just different, and not wrong or bad, then the less willing we'll be to harm someone just because they are different. But as long as we have these distinctions, we have a method of feeling justified for everything from not helping to actually harming.

Did that make any sense?