Search for Your Shared Humanity in Others

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?

It would be a magical billboard that would display something unique for each person who looked at it. The billboard would be able to mind-read, figuring out which group of people the viewer was most one-dimensionalizing, demonizing, and dehumanizing in their heads. For one viewer today, that might be Trump voters. For another, it might be Muslims. For another, it might be black people, or wealthy white people, or sex offenders. Whichever the group, the viewer would see an image of a member of that group doing something that reminded the viewer of that type or person’s full, three-dimensional humanity. Maybe it would be that person sitting by the deathbed of their parent, or helping their child with their homework, or doing some silly hobby that the viewer also happened to like.

Tim Urban to Tim Ferriss in “Tribe of Mentors

I came across the above passage during a recent reading and the message resonated with me because it reminded me of what may be the greatest mistake that most if not all of us have made over the past 18 months. During this time period we experienced massive rifts dividing people based on their political affiliation and choice of president, their stance on gun laws, their views on the issue of race and the BLM movement, climate change, the Covid19 Virus and vaccines, to say nothing of the plethora of other more permanent issues that make us angry and resentful towards others.

I will confess to the crime of allowing such issues to cause me to feel hatred for others. I became convinced that I was right and others were wrong, my ego having me believe that because of my own innate intelligence, research, and attention to detail that I and those who agreed with me were clearly of the correct viewpoint and everybody who believed otherwise was wrong. I grew to detest others for their stupidity and for the audacity of supporting an unjust cause or believing in an idea that was so clearly false. Ask yourself if you have felt this way not just recently but ever. Have you ever felt a tremendous sense of resentment and hostility towards any particular person or group because you so detested their ideals? If not I applaud you, if so, you are not alone, but let us promise ourselves to be better.

Interestingly enough, a 2020 study from the University of Waterloo in Canada showed that a hatred for certain entities or groups fosters a sense of meaning in one’s life. I think this is precisely the trap in which myself and others have at times fallen into. Particularly in a year as chaotic and uncertain as 2020, people were struggling to find a constant to hang on to in a tumultuous year. The world changed in such ways as it never had before in anyone’s living memory, and the institutions, habits, and norms which we grew dependent on for security were wrested from beneath our feet leaving us desperate for a handhold. Sadly, that handhold came too easily in the form of people who fall on different sides of various hot-button issues than us, all promoted and capitalized upon by the media and news. While the chaos of the world unfolded before us we found ourselves grasping to a one-dimensional view of others, and our contempt towards them, as our easiest way to form an identity ensuring our own meaning, purpose, security, and sense of belonging.

The opening passage presents a valuable exercise to people whom have cast a veil over their eyes, allowing them not just to see the one part of any individual that they might despise, instead realizing that everyone is a complex and multi-dimensional individual and that we all have far more in common than we do different. The problem with these one dimensional views is twofold: 1) it is a false or at least incomplete representation of the individual under scrutiny 2) it arouses negative emotions such as hatred, anger, and fear. I urge you to consider this approach when you feel yourself holding on to anger and resentment of others. It is dangerous and unhealthy. You yourself must learn to adapt, to accept others, and to be the change you wish to see in the world. Others will not change for you, and the world does not care about your opinions. Conformity and unity of opinion, belief, and character will never exist. So might as well learn what you can do to make the most of the situation.

To gain a more honest and more sympathetic view of others, we must look beyond this one dimensional view and see the entire human and to see ourselves in others. Yes, you may disagree mightily with that anti-vaxxer, believing that their view is naive and dangerous. You will likely never agree with their point of view on this issue and nor will they persuaded to agree with yours. So what? If you look beyond this one superficial trait, you may find another person who shares your love for tennis, Chilean wineries, or antique cars. You may never politically agree with the far-left leaning democrat down the street who wants to raise taxes and implement more socialist policies in local and federal government. There is more to them than that. Maybe that person is a father like yourself, raising a teenaged daughter the same as you, and maybe that person faces the same struggles in being a good dad to a rebellious child as you. You may both enjoy watching the hockey game on tv or reading the Sunday comics. You may be surprised even to find out that you are both equally proud to be Americans and that you both love your country, even both envisioning a wonderful future for it, although you may disagree on the best way to arrive at such a destination or what that wonderful future may look like. The point is you have more in common as humans than you realize.

The one-dimensional viewpoint is a failure to view the individual as a whole. This is the equivalent of looking at a smudgy, off-color piece of canvas cloth, thinking it ugly and worthless, only to zoom out and realize that the piece you were looking at was just a small portion of what was actually a beautiful masterpiece of Monet. Similarly this would be like focusing on the fact that you stubbed your toe in the morning while getting dressed when the rest of the day was extremely pleasant, productive, and enjoyable. Don’t let a few bad minutes change your perception of the whole. Don’t let one characteristic of another person define the entire being.

Hatred is a negative emotion that ultimately harms nobody but the bearer as if it were a cancer upon the mind and soul of the afflicted. Hatred prohibits our enjoyment of life and our realization of happiness. We cannot expect to change the opinions, beliefs, or traits of others but we can change how we view and treat those with whom we disagree or even disapprove. Nobody is suggesting that you become best friends, or that you must learn to agree, but at least we ought to learn to be more tolerant of people’s differences while still respecting and caring for them. Who are we to judge ourselves as morally superior? We must learn to peacefully coexist and we must learn to accept and love people not in-spite of our differences but because of what we share.

So long as we choose to hate one another for our differences rather than love one another for what we hold in common, the happiness of the world shall be restricted. We cannot change others but we can change ourselves. What others think, do, and who they are is out of our control. What is within our control is how we perceive others, and the way to perceive is not be picking out the handful of faults we see in others but by appreciating them as our brothers and sisters, and fellow humans. This way of thinking just might help us to realize more happiness.

The end to the opening passage reads as follows:

I think humans can only feel real hatred of people they’re able to dehumanize in their heads. As soon as someone is exposed to reality and reminded of the full humanness of someone they hate, the hatred usually fades away and empathy pours in.

Tim Urban

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