Clippings #44: US and THEM

Professor of biology, neurology, and neurosurgery, Robert Sapolsky, sheds light on Us and Them.[1] “Considerable evidence suggests that dividing the world into Us and Them is deeply hard-wired in our brains, with an ancient evolutionary legacy.” The hormone, oxytocin, stirs us to be gracious to those members of our own group and the opposite to outsiders.

We are more correct, wise, moral, and worthy; our food is tastier, our music more moving, our language more logical or poetic. They will take advantage, threaten, are not to be trusted, are to be feared. They are beyond the pale. They must be demeaned and excluded.

Although membership is strong, there are exceptions. When a Confederate general was wounded during the Civil War, he gave a secret Masonic sign that was recognized by a Union officer who protected him and took him to a Union hospital. In World War I on Christmas opposing trench soldiers spent the day singing, praying, and partying together, playing soccer, and exchanging gifts and soldiers up and down the lines struggled to extend the truce.

Sapolsky says that there are ways to breach the hostile gaps. Make contact, find a common bond, acknowledge the biases, try on the other’s sandals, flatten divisive hierarchies, distrust those cultural factors that lead to the gap.

Where do you think we need to apply these ways today?

[1] From Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert M. Sapolsky, published on May 2, 2017 by Penguin Press, Copyright © 2017 by Robert M. Sapolsky

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