In the age of political partisanship, polarization, culture war, and fencing out the “others” I am here to tell you that differences are small and what unites us is big.
Men and women are more alike than different, ethnicity and race are arbitrary labels dividing humanity on the basis of superficial socialized markers, and even Republican and Democrats in the US have more in common than one might think.
We all want to find purpose in life, be healthy, be loved and love, have economic security, and we all want our children and grandchildren to have the same. On top of it all, we all need our planet Earth to be healthy so humanity can survive and prosper.
So why are we so entrenched in divisions?
Well, for one, we are social animals. We live in herds. We need to belong to a group, we need to be able to have social relationships, be able to relate to one another.
But unlike animals, we are burdened with the ability to critically reflect upon the world and other people, and to critically reflect upon ourselves. In order to do that, we take clues from the group, from a culture. We need to feel connected. We form an understanding and identity of ourselves through the social surrounding, the group.
Humans have a hard time to stand alone, they want to belong and therefore they will follow or lead others in order to escape the possibility of being alone (see for example Eric Fromm’s research on this topic).
In times of crises and great changes, belonging to a group becomes even more important. Blaming others for the uncertainties such crises and changes bring is what humans do. When you look at the history of humanity, crises are almost always accompanied by group conflict (think of wars).
Humankind has never faced a crisis this large – environmental disasters of a global scale. The latest example is the gigantic cyclone in south Africa. US geologists project historic floods in the south of the USA this spring.
The social and political divisions and nationalistic ideologies we see today around the world together with the global climate catastrophes create a perfect global storm from which we cannot escape if we don’t stop focusing on differences.
I don’t want to diminish the importance of political and cultural debates. However, the differences we fuzz over are small in comparison with the loss we will face if we don’t change our mindset and focus on what is most important to us all.