The Danger of Us Versus Them

Photo by Laura Tancredi from Pexels

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Any time you draw a line that excludes, you’re leaving ethical territory. That’s a bold statement, but when someone draws a dividing line that intentionally excludes people or groups, it can lead to an “us versus them” mentality. And from there, it’s a short and slippery slope to this and more:

  • Using a label when referring to the excluded, to identify them as “separate”
  • Describing the excluded as “the enemy” and referring to them in unkind ways

Having achieved “separateness” in your mind:

  • You unfairly blame things on the excluded, which makes the excluded appear unfavorable
  • Since you have decided they are unfavorable, you may try to take something away from them to have it for yourself

It’s important to realize that our ancient lizard brains are designed to protect us from harm. They operate in a narrow sphere, making decisions based on fear and safety, and excluding considerations about what might happen to others – It is all about us.

“The basic machinery of the mind that promoted the survival of our evolutionary ancestors becomes not-so-adaptive for social life in the 21st century.”

David Amodio, The Egalitarian Brain, Greater Good Magazine, Berkeley University

To consider our ethical impact, we need to use our higher order thinking in interactions with others, which is not based on fear, and which understands the importance of community and inclusion. We must quiet the lizard brain and move beyond it. To do this, we need to commit to lifelong learning and intentionally improve our higher order reasoning. When we take that journey, we learn to take control of our thoughts, we move beyond our self-focus to other-focus, and we use more ethical interpersonal behavior.

“The grand prize in us versus them is that somebody gets to feel special for a while. The grand prize in the game of unity is that everyone gets to feel special forever.”

Deepak Chopra, Fire in the Heart: A Spiritual Guide for Teens

Always remember that any words or feelings about other people being “less than” are not coming from an ethical place.

“As we move toward an inclusive society that works for all, the message that anyone is “better than” others undermines our progress and perpetuates old paradigms that can be harmful. The only way we should be using “better than” is in terms of our behavior and performance, not in comparing ourselves to other people. Are we better than we were yesterday and the day before? That’s how we will reach the elusive win” (Why It’s Time to Stop Saying We’re ‘Better Than’ Other People, Leading in Context Blog).

Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership 

© 2022 Leading in Context LLC

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