Because common sense is so limited for our first decades, our nurturers have no choice but to direct us using simple, two-category either/or explanations of the world. We remain helpless while we are immature, and we uncritically accept whatever interpretation of the world our nurturers provide us. Our first experience with language biases us to serve the pre-judgments and prejudices of instinct and our nurturers. The world must first be understood in two extremes – good or bad (evil), right or wrong, O.K. or not O.K., friend or foe, safe or dangerous, value or denigrate. But while this early two-category processing of data is necessary, it is also the major source of bigotry. You get the idea. Hatred, resentment, jealousy, greed, and other forms of mental aggression become the symbolic replacement for physical aggression. If our way, our family, our kind, our flag, our leaders, our religion are good and right, then what is not us must be bad and wrong. It is O.K. to demean those who are not us, even to demand that not us come over to our way or be punished. With repetition, this either/or way of thinking becomes habit that controls our beliefs, feelings and actions. The culture of our society is an expression of our collective habits.
We’d like to think we are beyond this two-category either/or thinking, but the evidence does not support it. The harmful outcomes of either/or thinking are evident in our daily life. Our TV, movies, and games clearly distinguish the good guys from the bad guys; countries are friends or foes; our popular sports events enourage us to cheer the hero and boo the clearly identified villain; our laws require us to plead innocent or guilty; we adhere to two-party politics where party dominance is often more important than collaboration for mutual benefit. In any confrontation, we commonly glorify our side, demonize and dehumanize the other side, and justify their need for punishment. Even our gods take sides, and we commonly pray for them to favor our designated teams. As a psychiatry resident, I heard a lecture by Brock Chisholm, first director of the World Health Organization, who described the disbelief of Canadian soldiers during WWI when they discovered that every German soldier had inscribed in their belts, “Gott mit uns, God is with us.” Didn’t they know God favored the Allies?
Now that we are arming multiple tribes with ultimate destructive power, we have much to learn and little time to succeed. The outcome of sustained blaming predictably results in escalation of negative feelings and harmful confrontation, as documented by our history. When most tribes have weapons with such ultimate destructive power that they provide no second chance, survival of the physically fittest is likely to result in all losers. The weak and “have nots,” frustrated, first target the strong and the “haves.” The long established “might is right” tradition becomes suddenly fatal. Love, forgiveness, collaboration, cooperation, and compromise are the new champions of surviving and thriving. We must selectively update the trial-and-error solutions, instincts, and traditions that have long been effective but have now become dangerous. We need to deal with the terrorist we each harbor within us. We are up to the task if we first teach ourselves to forgive and negotiate rather than demonize and destroy those we perceive as enemies, i.e. who or what deviates from our dictators. In short, our time is short!
- Category: The Maxi Course
- Written by Don Pet
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