Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Us and Them

While attending BYU in Utah, my wife and I elected to by a mobile home instead of paying rent. It turned out to be a good financial investment as we were able to sell it when I graduated and took my first job in Idaho.

The way LDS congregations (known as “wards”) are set up is by geography. This means that the ward you attend is based on where you live. It may seem strange to some people, but it works. The boundaries are selected based on the number of members in a given area ensuring that the wards don’t get too big or are too small to support the needs of the members.

It just so happened that the mobile home park my wife and I lived in was in a ward with a subdivision of nicer homes of people that were fairly well off. Overall, that didn’t cause many issues, but once in a while, it did.

Here’s an example: One Sunday, a church leader was talking about providing service to those in need. A good idea, right? What bothered me personally, and several others in the meeting, was when he said, “We need to reach out to those people over there in the mobile home park and make sure we are taking care of them.”

I’m certain he meant no harm in the statement, but by saying it that way, he basically created an “Us and Them” situation. And I say that’s not a good thing.

As I read the news, many of the world’s conflicts are caused by people focusing more on what makes them different than what they have in common. Labeling people based on any particular trait that makes them different can overshadow shared commonalities.

That’s not to say everyone has to be the same. Heck, I’ll go as far as to say that it’s a good thing for people to embrace things that make them different—as long as that doesn’t become such a powerful representation that it obliterates the things we all have in common.

What kind of differences am I talking about? It can be skin color. It can be religion. It can be economic situation. It can be marital status. It can be sexual orientation. It can be which sports team you cheer for. And the list goes on and on.

I’ll openly admit that in my life I’ve been one of those who have perpetuated the “Us and Them” situation from time to time, and I’ve learned it wasn’t a good thing.

My first job was at McDonald’s. I worked after school and on the weekends. When I was scheduled to “close,” I couldn’t go home until everything was done. Over time, it was clear to me that the morning crew and the evening crew didn’t like each other very much. The morning crew would often complain about how the evening crew left things a mess from the night before. The evening crew would counter by saying “The morning crew doesn’t have it as bad as we do. They can go home once their shift is over and they don’t have to clean up.”

Then I graduated from high school and had a chance to work in the mornings during the summer. What I found out shocked me. The people in the morning were actually pretty cool. They had to deal with stuff we didn’t at night, like switching over from breakfast to lunch. In the end, I came to realize the morning and evening crews had a lot more in common than not. I felt bad for being one of the outspoken evening crew.

Recently, I was once again confronted with an “Us and Them” situation. I won’t go into details because frankly I’m sure there are several people who are cheesed off at me and I’m hoping they will understand where I’m coming from. What I tried to do is to get them to see they were perpetuating “Us and Them” by focusing on what I consider to be small differences and ignoring the larger commonalities.

In the end, let me make a suggestion: when you find yourself at odds with someone, take a moment and step back to look at the bigger picture. Focus on what you have in common with the other person instead of the differences.

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