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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Essay: When you say “WE,” just who do you mean?

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When you say “WE,” just who do you mean?

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Chum For Thought:
Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters

When you say “WE,” just who do you mean?


Family is always, obviously, “WE.” But stopping there just puts too many limits on the culture that we can achieve. If WE is only family, you need a strict father or tribal chief to enforce order and to lead YOUR cousins on plundering raids against OTHER families or tribes.

If your WE is too small, you have to always arm yourselves and be vigilant to protect your life and property against the next small group that defines “US” as just “OUR family” or “OUR tribe.” 
Without broader cooperation, life just becomes too hard and too dangerous and it often becomes necessary to attack other families or tribes to survive. Our philosophy becomes, “If we do not stand for ourselves, first, foremost, and always, we stand to fall.” If WE is too small, it is moral to take what YOU can from THEM because OUR needs are more important to US because survival is always the highest value.

Or, do you get your values and sense of who you are from a larger association, community of faith, or regional alliance? Do you identify primarily as Scandinavian Lutherans or Southern Baptists? Is YOUR version of God the ONLY TRUE God? My, how comforting that
must be, with most of WE being very much like US. WE worship together, eat together, and raise barns together.

Maybe you sometimes buy and sell stuff with THEM, but you are uncomfortable living too close to THOSE PEOPLE. “THEY sing different songs and the things THEIR gods want don’t align with yours. Their fathers came from somewhere else. Come to think of it, THEY could be dangerous and are not to be trusted. I wouldn’t let my daughter marry one of THEM.”

Or, do you get you sense of identity from a voluntary political alliance? Does YOUR  region, territory, or state have a treaty, alliance, or union with THEIRS? Has YOUR prince, governor, or king taken one of THEIR daughters into HIS family? Have YOUR people thereby been joined with THEIR people? This could be good for as long as it lasts. There are more people to do business with. Major trade routes can be expanded and YOU can travel safely and freely on THEIR public roads.

After you begin using a COMMON currency, your business grows even more as you can take advantage of new rights. Your sons take these new rights for granted. They are no longer a special benefit of common public agreement; they have become personal and inalienable freedoms and liberties.

So, now you may also derive an extended sense of identity from “my country, right or wrong, my country.” It is truly commendable that YOU have expanded YOUR sense of US to so many other individuals and kinds of people.

Your country now includes many different races, religions, and value systems. And, for now, you are living together in a kind of uneasy peace. Congratulations, this is pretty good.

Now, what about all those OTHER people who are somethingorotherists, foreigners, infidels or some other bad word? Well, THEY are easy to identify as enemies and blame for your problems, especially in hard times. And, wouldn’t it just solve everything to attack them because you just know that all your problems are THEIR fault?

Or not. As Will Rogers commented, “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.”