Life in an ‘Us vs. Them’ World

us vs.themI was in a conversation about the NFL with my mother on a Sunday afternoon recently and it went something like this.

Mom: Well, the other day Rush was saying that they started with the concussion thing and now they’re using this because they want to do away with the NFL.

Me: Who’s ‘they’?

Mom (caught off guard): I don’t know. I guess liberals.

Me: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaattttt?? Based on what?

Mom: Well …

Me: You know who’s filling stadiums right now and bars all across the country watching football? Americans. A-mer-i-cans. Not liberals. Not conservatives. Americans. What the hell is he talking about?

Never mind that my dear mother calls Rush Limbaugh by his first name like she knows him. Or that “this” in her original statement referred to the Ray Rice situation and all its fallout and implied that somehow liberals want to use domestic violence to destroy football. Better not to think about what else my mother – a person I love and respect — could be doing with the time she spends looping Imus, Neil Cavuto, The Five, Bret Baier.

What I’m more interested in talking about here is the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that has developed in this country. We’re very much beyond the point that it will ever change in my lifetime and I think that reality is just starting to hit me hard. There’s no turning back. I will never be able to have an intelligent, civil conversation about politics with my mother – or most of my family, for that matter – ever again.

And it’s not just about us, our family, our little corner of the world. It is the prevalent way of being now. Us vs. them. It’s why our Congress is so ineffective, why people are killing and raping in the name of religion, why there are way more guns in the hands of Americans than there were a decade ago.

We are one? That is something I hear a fair amount, but who’s living that? Very few, albeit a valiant few. I’m not trying to be a pessimist; I’m not at all a fan of pessimism. But every day, one after another, it’s division, dividing, divisiveness.

Us vs. them. I’m so sorry your child is gravely ill. Please don’t bring him near mine. Was he near those illegal alien kids that Obama brought in so he could change the ‘complexion’ of the country in 12 years when they can vote?

Us vs. them. Is your kid vaccinated or is she one of ‘them’?

Us vs. them. I didn’t enslave black people; therefore, racism doesn’t exist. (By that logic, you didn’t run any concentration camps, so anti-Semitism doesn’t exist. And you didn’t fly any planes into the World Trade Center, so no fallout from that disaster exists. Congratulations, you are powerful.)

Us vs. them. Why should we raise the minimum wage? Those people aren’t supposed to make careers out of fast food joints anyway. ‘They’ should go to college. ‘They’ have no ambition. It’s not my fault ‘they’ can’t get better jobs. Cost of living? What do you mean?

Us vs. them. What are those black people complaining about now? Oh, yeah, I saw the video of the African-American guy who got shot by a cop questioning him for a seatbelt violation in South Carolina. That was an anomaly. That hardly ever happens. ‘They’ just need to obey the law and quit playing victim.

Us vs. them. All cops are rogue. ‘They’ are on a power trip and think the law doesn’t apply to them. ‘They’ are racist, sexist and homophobic.

Us vs. them. People who believe in God are sheep and buy into fairy tales, especially Christians. ‘They’ are of a single mind and live primarily for the reward of heaven. Could they be any more ignorant?

Us vs. them. Mothers who don’t breast feed their children are putting themselves ahead of their kids. Don’t ‘they’ get it’s a natural part of motherhood? Their bond with their baby will never be as close as the one they would have had if they breast fed.

Us vs. them. Why is the governor, still trembling from the massive damage inflicted on his state by a storm of epic proportions, shaking hands with the President of the United States? What is he thinking? Doesn’t the governor know he’s one of ‘them’?

Us vs. them. If the women working for Hobby Lobby want to be sluts, I shouldn’t have to pay for it. ‘They’ can keep their legs closed. It’s ‘their’ problem. My religion is my religion. Unless, say, some non-Christian CEO declares he doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ and therefore all his employees must work on Christmas. That’s a different story.

Us vs. them. Wealthy people have no heart, no soul, and no problems. ‘They’ have nothing to gripe about. ‘They’ can’t possibly suffer from addiction or depression because they have it all.

Us vs. them. I’m afraid ISIS is going to get into our country because our borders are wide open now thanks to the evil federal government. ‘They’ don’t care about America. ‘They’ don’t care about keeping us safe. ‘They’ have opened the country to vulnerability and now I have to stress about this every day.

Fear.

The borders, the subways, the bridges.

Fear

Terrorists.

Ebola.

Fear.

Your buddy while you’re hunting.

The driver coming at you who’s texting and hasn’t a clue you’re about to collide.

The surgeon who didn’t get enough sleep.

The parachute that doesn’t open.

The pilot who’s stoned.

The spouse who could one day break your heart.

Fear.

Stir it up.

Fear.

Stay right there. In it.

Fear.

It’s what’s in fashion.

It’s what drives ratings.

Fear.

Since September 11, 2001, every time I drive over a bridge I think this could be the day a plane will fly into it. Every time I walk near the Empire State Building I hope it isn’t the day it will come crashing down because no one who loves me even knows I’m there. Every time I get on the subway I push away the thought that some twisted soul may have picked this day to take it out. They’re fleeting thoughts, but they’re there.

This is my reality. Which is why it’s also my reality to live as meaningfully as I can every day. To be clear on my purpose. To let my actions be fueled by the knowledge that life can change on a dime.

Being my best me, you being your best you, that’s what we can do. Everyone around us benefits. We make the world better, our corner of it, at least.

There are a hundred topics I can discuss with my mother. We don’t need to dwell on one that irritates both of us. She’s my mother and I love her. I’ll be damned if I’m going to make her my ‘them.’

Isn’t it vital to healthy love that we love people (or our country) even with the rough spots? That she love me even if she thinks I’m a bleeding heart and idealistic?

I suppose lots of people in our nation are mostly around others who are kindred spirits and don’t have to try to figure out how to reconcile these things. But I clearly can’t delete all the people whose views are polar opposite of mine. They’re too important to me.

I abruptly ended that NFL conversation with my mother. I was done. Plus, I wanted to get on the road because as I traversed the New Jersey Turnpike I didn’t want to hit the traffic that would be coming out of the Giants’ game.

Those Americans in cars can be pretty aggressive.

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