“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
~Nelson Mandela

Republican, Democrat, Independent. Us and Them.

Christian, Jew, Muslim. Us and Them.

Wolverine, Buckeye, Spartan. Us and Them.

Labels define the groups to which we belong. This tendency we have to group together as “tribes” comes from an earlier era when our forebears banded together for safety. Those who were with the group tended to live longer and healthier than those who weren’t. Even today, study after study has shown that those who are better connected tend to be better off on a variety of levels than those who aren’t. Banding together to form an “us” brings the benefits of health, wealth, and happiness to each individual member of the group.

The downside of the “us”, though, is the “them”. If we aren’t careful, we fall into this mental trap. If you are in our group, you are part of the “us”. You stand for all that is true and right and just. If you aren’t, you are part of the “them” — those who revel in corruption, filth, and villainy. Those who are “them” are automatically inferior to those who are “us”.

This mindset, as easy as it is to fall into, limits our success on almost every level.

Here’s where the networking thing comes in. Your success in life is almost always directly proportional to the number of people in your network. The more “us” you have, the more you get to enjoy the fruits of your connection — health, wealth, and happiness. By corollary, for every person you place in the “them”, you have one fewer person in your “us” and the less you get to enjoy those benefits.

Ironically, getting rid of the “them” doesn’t help. Take a look at any group, especially one with a “them” that is gone or lost its strength. You only have to look at the American government to see this played out in large. We’ve seen it on a couple of occasions when one of the two major parties gains control of the government. Suddenly factions appear within that group and, amazingly (or not), they are unable to accomplish anything, because there is a whole new structure of “us” and “them” — and it’s happened on both sides of the aisle.

Here’s the thing: Most of the labels we use to create division are completely artificial. We have accepted them as important because someone told us that they were. In almost every case, though, those categories could be reframed to bring us together. Fundamentally, we all want the same things — health, wealth, and happiness — and we are more likely to achieve those goals if we work together.

It’s almost as if someone is trying to take away our power by finding ways to keep us separate, right? We’re “Wolverines” or “Buckeyes” or “Spartans”. We aren’t “College Football Fans”. We’re “Christians” or “Jews” or “Muslims”. We’re not “People of Faith”. We’re “Americans” or “Russians” or “North Koreans”. We aren’t simply “People”.

What’s the solution? Understanding. The more you can understand the other person’s position, the less likely that they’ll be a “them”. It takes a willingness to ask questions. Be curious, interested, fascinated by those around you. It also takes a willingness to listen for the answers and walk a mile in the other person’s shoes.

Go out and create more “Us” and less “Them”. Is it easy? Nope. Is it worth it? Only if you want to enjoy more health, wealth, and happiness.

Photo by Vaibhav Sharan