As a collective, we are being forced to confront some uncomfortable issues that have long been a disease in our society. When it comes to curing disease, both biological and cultural, our society tends to focus on eradicating symptoms. If the disease were a tree, we might trim the leaves or clip some branches. Maybe, in an extreme case, we would cut down the tree.
None of this actually solves the problem. To properly address systemic issues, we need to dig up the soil and clear out the roots of the tree. Systemic racism and other forms of “othering” is a tree with many roots, and these roots are entangled.
It’s beyond the scope of my expertise or experience to address all of them. All I can do is my part.
I want to be clear that my intent is not to oversimplify complex issues that have myriad causes. I am focusing on one small area of a complex root structure.
When I look more generally at any type of “othering” three patterns of behavior stick out for me:
- duality reality
Beneath the hate we see in our world is fear.
Fear isn’t singular, so I want to allow for the fact that there are many fears rolled together. One of those fears, and the fear I want to focus on here, is a fear of having enough.
This fear is rooted in a belief that there is a finite amount of resources for everyone to share. The more people who try to share them, them less available for each of us.
When we perceive we lack essential resources, or if we fear there won’t be enough, we instinctively resort to hoarding. We become territorial of land, materials, resources, and opportunity.
We saw this with toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. This survival instinct to hoard favors those who already have resources. I saw a heartbreaking video posted by a woman who arrived at a Walmart to buy diapers for her baby and found bare shelves. She had just gotten off her shift at work, and she explained that she couldn’t afford to buy diapers in bulk because she didn’t have enough money to buy such a large quantity and still also afford food.
I wondered how many people who had stocked up on diapers already had plenty.
What would be different if everyone trusted that we would have the resources we need when we need them?
The second pattern I see is our blame culture.
When something doesn’t go according to our plans, we look for who is to blame.
If we perceive ourselves as lacking something we need, we look for who is to blame.
When we don’t get what we want, we look for who is to blame.
Who is taking that resource or opportunity away from me?
Who is to blame for my suffering?
We either turn this blame on others, or we turn it onto ourselves. When we turn it to others, we become victims in our own story.
This, too, is related to the belief that resources are finite. If you believe that everyone has a specific role to play, then you’re not threatened when someone else gets a job you wanted, because you can consider that there is a different role for you.
If resources are unlimited, then you don’t cast yourself as a victim when someone else gets access to resources, because you know that there’s enough for you too.
The third pattern is what one of my teachers calls “the duality reality.”
The duality reality is an illusion in how we see the world, and it is based in the concept of polarization.
This or that.
In or out.
Up or down.
Ahead or behind.
Abundance or lack.
You have or you don’t have.
In power or out of power.
Good or bad.
Wrong or right.
Innocent or guilty.
Win or lose.
Sick or healthy.
“Normal” or “not-normal.”
Rich or poor.
We can see this in play out across a number of realms. In politics, one party is in power and the other is out of power. After a certain amount of time, people get tired of the in-power party and elect someone from the out-of-power party. It doesn’t really matter who it is.
In this duality reality culture, we are forced to choose sides. You’re a democrat or a republican. You’re a liberal or a conservative. You’re rich or your poor. You’re advantaged or disadvantaged. You’re with us or against us.
We leave no room for middle ground, no allowance for nuance.
It’s all or nothing.
And it’s exhausting.
This duality reality way of thinking, and the belief that all resources are finite, results in the dominant cultural belief that is some version of “your success comes at my expense.”
This leads to fear — that others will work their way “in” leaving us on the “outs” — and blame when that fear “materializes.”
The Dominant Underlying Belief
Behind all of these patterns is a belief that all resources — time, money, attention, energy, opportunity — are finite. We are all trying to split up the same pie.
What happens when we question our beliefs about resources?
- What if resources weren’t finite?
- What if we trusted that there’s enough for everyone?
- What if the duality was an illusion?
- What would be different for you if you believed that my success did not come at your expense?
There’s a lot to untangle when it comes to sorting out the roots of our cultural problems, but this is a good place to start.