What Are We Fighting For?

253. 1. 50.  In less than 2 months, we’ve lost over 300 people due to attacks on people in their place of worship, including Christians, Jews, and Muslims.  Not to mention the numerous accounts of race related shootings and mounting tensions in the US over the last few years.  It’s clear there are a few very angry people and a lot of unresolved issues charging our everyday lives.  All I’ve been asking myself lately is, “What is it that we’re fighting for??”

Some might argue culture, identity, or some other cause, but to me it seems the simple answer is that these people are playing a zero-sum game.  Somewhere along the line, they bought into the idea that in order for their group to “win,” other groups must lose.  In the recent book Biased:Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, author Jennifer Eberhardt describes the chants used by Neo-Nazis during the 2017 Charlottesville protests, “You will not replace us!  You will not replace us!”  This group believes that people who do not belong deserve to be eradicated.  But why?

Growing up, I moved around frequently, not as the product of a military family, but something more akin to a gypsy brat.  My mom and entire family are Canadian, yet I’m American.  We’ve lived apart from our family my entire life, and I’m an only child, so it’s only been the two of us.  My mom is Bahá’í, where it’s against faith to raise children in that belief system.  I never grew up with a religion, family, or community strong enough to give me insider status.  Even something as seemingly trivial as being left-handed has taught me what it’s like to be a perpetual outsider, someone viewed as “the other.”

I never wanted to be an outsider.  Growing up, I wanted desperately to be a central part of a group, any group. During my years as a competitive gymnast, I tried so hard to adopt the practices, phrases, and even favorite foods of the in-girls (picture Mean Girls with less boobs and witty banter).  In middle school, when my mom told me we were moving again, this time to rural North Carolina, I fought.  My mom made the argument that 7thgrade was the best time to move, before high school, before the real cliques had formed. What she failed to realize was that in a town as small as the one we moved to, where families had been friends with families for generations, the cliques were already well established by the time kids hit middle school.  

As the new kid in a school that didn’t get many new kids, I garnered immediate attention, but it quickly faded as the “shiny new toy” effect wore off.  I was left struggling to find my place in this ecosystem.  Not a true part of any group, I was relegated to dancing on the edges of many groups.  I could get along with the nerds, preps, racers, rednecks, you name it.  I gained insight into the different groups and learned how similar they all were.  We all have our differences, sure, but fundamentally we’re all striving for love, belonging, and tribe.  This experience left me bewildered when I’d see people using race, ethnic background, or religion to hate others without even getting to know them.  

The most important lesson I learned was how multidimensional we are as humans.  It is not any one experience or characteristic that encompasses us as individuals.  I cannot be neatly put into a box using only one or even multiple facets of my identity, nor can anyone else.  Our unique experiences, families, and cultures shape the way we see and experience the world. It is not the melanin in our skin or how we choose to worship that fully depicts our humanness.  We will not benefit by isolating ourselves with fellow insiders in our group.  Ideas and humans are made better by diversity, by mixing together the seemingly disparate.  When we breed like with like, we end up stagnant, or worse.  However, if we come together to create a world where individuals are supported in pursuing that which fulfills and inspires them, we stand a chance at creating a world where every person can flourish.