Paradox Pair #30: Us & Them

We all want to feel like we are part of a community. Othering is the opposite of belonging, it labels individuals as operating outside the norms. Luckily we can defeat othering by allowing our membership rules to be intersectional.

Paradox Pair #30:  Us & Them
Us & Them, James LaPlaine

We all want to feel like we are part of a community, of something larger than us as an individual. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all cherish a sense of belonging as we seek out our specific tribe. We've already documented the value of individuals achieving a sense of belonging.

"The most important good we distribute to each other in society is membership." -john a. powell and Stephen Menendian

When we interact with others within the same membership we dip into a currency of connection: learning and teaching each other, supporting and celebrating, fostering a culture of acceptance and inclusion.

When we instead interact with a group where we don't have membership, we may find we begin to think and act as if we are in competition. We can easily overlay social constructs to our team and their team. The language we use, us and them, can become more adversarial and divisive, creating a concept referred to as othering.

Othering is the opposite of belonging, it labels individuals as operating outside the norms. Those that are othered are deemed less worthy, they can become marginalized. If left unchecked, othering will lead to conflict — every time.

"And who knows which is which and who is who" -Pink Floyd, Us and Them, 1973

The paradox here is that we seek inclusion and diversified thought for the many benefits brought to creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and perspective — yet our brains will naturally categorize what we observe as unwelcome differences. Luckily we can defeat othering by allowing our membership rules to be intersectional. We can grant access to our tribe by celebrating the uniquenesses our brains will recognize, by educating ourselves about cultures we haven't experienced, and by ensuring our identity definition is as openminded as we portray we are.

The Robbers Cave Experiment

The othering theory is supported by a famous case study from the 1950s. Muzafer Sherif conducted the Robbers Cave Experiment on two groups of twelve-year-old boys at Robber’s Cave State Park, Oklahoma. The tests confirmed Sherif's hypothesis:

1. When individuals who don't know each other are brought together to interact in group activities in order to achieve common goals, they will produce a group structure with hierarchical statuses and roles within it.

2. When two in-groups, once formed, are brought into functional relationship under conditions of competition and group frustration, attitudes and appropriate hostile actions in relation to the out-group and its members will arise; these will be standardised and shared in varying degrees by group members.

Further Investigation

How Othering Contributes to Discrimination and Prejudice
Othering involves seeing people as fundamentally different from the dominant group. It is a process often used to dehumanize minority individuals.

See the whole series by using the Paradox Pairs Index