May 12, 2014 by Liberty
Growing up in New England around the time of the Patriots big championship wins, I got a free lesson in the us versus them mentality. The concept of sport teams is pretty simple. Whether you watch football or not, around the time of the Super Bowl, you are supposed to be a New England Patriots fan in my area. I can still remember non-sports fan after non-sports fan suddenly acting jazzed over the final playoff game.
Of course, not everyone gets excited about the New England Patriots. Whatever team the Patriots played there would be a few stragglers rooting for the other team. Those stragglers tended to fit into one of two categories. Either they used to live in the other teams region or they just liked to poke bears.
There was always a playful hatred between the Patriot fans and non-patriot fans. While no one would outright attack anyone over it, everyone felt comfortable saying a few cruel things to each other in the name of “friendly competition.”
When I was younger I didn’t always get why this all took place. I saw that everyone seemed to be a fan of the Patriots but it made absolutely no sense why. I played along but nothing clicked. Until, of course, I understood why everyone was suddenly a Patriots fan.
Virtually none of the fans that were created pre-big game knew anything about football or the Patriots. I can remember a few people in school getting made fun of for acting like Patriots fans when they only player they knew was Tom Brady. While there were a few truly dedicated Pats fans out there, most of the people involved were just playing along.
The power of the crowd has been shown in experiment after experiment. When one person says something is true, the chances of another person saying the same thing goes up. Around that time of year I got to see that working at full effect. A few people got excited about a relatively rare occurrence and suddenly everyone wants to get involved.
With virtually every big thing that happens in the world, the vast majority of people don’t understand a thing. There is usually a small minority involved that just gets a large bull horn of people projecting it. Take 9/11 for example. (If you’re worried about insensitivity then stop reading hear. There is no way I’m going to be able to make my point without offending somebody.)
When 9/11 happened, everyone around me was freaking out. My parents acted a little worried. The teachers at school acted worried. The school actually released students early because of it. I tried to act worried but… honestly… I didn’t get it.
I had never been to New York. I knew absolutely no one that worked in the city. I had absolutely no reason to believe it would effect my life in the slightest bit. If it were a missile, maybe I’d be worried but it was a plane. For all anyone knew, it could have been a couple stupid navigation mistakes. Just about everyone I knew was in a similar position to me but they still acted like they were worried. These people could have just as easily been Iraqi and I wouldn’t have known the difference.
There are some people that should have worried at that time. There were families of victims. There were first responders. There were New Yorkers. There were plenty of people but those affected were still a tiny minority relative to the number of people worrying.
It’s odd to worry about a few thousand deaths of people you never met suddenly after completely ignoring thousands of other deaths that take place of people you never met. I never understood how these deaths were somehow more important than those people starving of getting murdered in another part of the world.
When the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started, I was a nut-job Republican. While I certainly didn’t dismiss the fact that there were civilian lives at risk, I assumed that “my” country wouldn’t be the one to kill those civilians. I assumed I lived in a more noble culture that cares enough not to deal excess damage. I thought “we” would use targeted strikes on military or terrorist targets.
That’s were the us versus them mentality runs off the rails. I would quickly use the word “we,” to describe absolutely anything that the government did. I’m sure you can imagine why that’s a major problem. I know my intentions. I know that I would NEVER do anything that seriously harmed other people. If I somehow did, I’d drive myself nuts with guilt over it. That being said, I have nothing to do with that “we,” I’ve been using.
When I used the word, “we” I put my own good intentions on people that I have very little connection with at all. I made the assumption that they were like me and I was like them. So, if they were accused of doing something wrong, it was like I was being accused of doing something wrong. I can virtually guarantee I wouldn’t do something wrong, so all the proof in the world couldn’t convince me.
I spent years of my life cheering on the murder of people overseas without even realizing the consequences. I look back at some of the things that I’ve said and I now understand how blind and sick they were.
It makes me wish I learned my lesson earlier.
When I was starting to become a football fan, I looked up everything about the players on “my” team. Just like any new fan during that time, Tom Brady was king. We all thought he could turn into (or even be) the best quarterback ever. I remember looking him up and seeing something that I saw as odd.
Tom Brady grew up in San Mateo, California… CALIFORNIA! Here we are rooting for this man on our football team and he didn’t even come from the region. The idea of different regions competing made sense to me. We would see some objective differences based on lifestyle but I didn’t quite understand why players weren’t from the region they played for. I kind of knew the truth but part of me didn’t want to admit it.
At that time, I had the choice to learn to eliminate the us versus them mentality for myself. The information had all clicked but I didn’t let them separate from one another. In fact, it probably took more discipline to hold onto my belief after that…
Then, of course, a few years later I’m rooting to blow up men and women half a world away from me.
I hope how I feel about that has been made pretty clear by now.
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