The Men are Ugly and Your Stroller is Cheap and You Live in the Wrong Zip Code: Reflecting on an “Us and Them” Mentality

An “us and them” mentality — it’s what justifies our existence.  “At least I’m not one of them,” we say, from whatever side of the aisle we’re on.  Maybe it’s the supermarket aisle (locavores vs. subsistence eaters). Maybe it’s a national divide.  Maybe it’s religious. Maybe it’s the political aisle (no explanation needed).

We like knowing who our people are, and we like knowing who’s not one of us.  It makes life simpler.

This tendency was explicated and exposed in a recent City Paper article here in DC about a “Mommy Fight Site,” DC Urban Moms, on which people were berating each other for being posers who aspired to discuss life as a parent in DC when they actually lived in the less-fashionable suburbs, when they actually went to the wrong pediatrician, when they actually didn’t even know what life is like in 20016.  It was frankly horrifying.

But no more horrifying than my own tendencies to think of other people in various categories as less deserving than I am of whatever the prize is for any of my given subcultures.  We really do foster superiority complexes, and we really do need to think of ourselves as “better than.”  It’s not enough just to be in a good place but we wan to be better off than someone else.  C. S. Lewis writes about this in “The Great Sin.” Here’s a line that arrests me:

Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.

If you want to read the whole essay, part of Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, which I heartily recommend, click here.

Thinking about our relationship to God, where’s the potential for “us and them” thinking. Appropriately, only the trinity has a God-given (to say the least) right to be the “us” where the rest of us are “them.”  Here is Lewis again:

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

Us/them thinking.  Right in a vertical orientation.  Off kilter in a horizontal one.

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~ by Cary on February 15, 2011.

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