Not one of 'us'?

My new book, OUR DAILY BREAD, which will be out in September explores the idea of ‘us’ vs ‘them’.  Who do we consider members of our community, of our family, of our tribe?

As many of you know, I spend a lot of time in church basement rooms with other people who want to stay clean and sober one day at a time.  One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how alike we all are, even though we may seem very different at first glance.  In these rooms are people of every race, of every economic level, nationality, every occupation and age group. The guy just out of prison sits next to the cop, the hooker sits next to the nun . . . and so on.  Here, we are all members of the same group — the only thing you need for admission is a desire to stop drinking or drugging.

Pretty simple.  And what’s interesting is that the people here are willing to accept the person next to them because they were similarly accepted when they first crawled through the doors, broken, desperate and in enormous pain.

These rooms, and these people, are pretty rare, I think.  Every day, in the regular world, I run across people like the man I met at a party recently who said he didn’t want to pay for health care for “those fat slobs in (he named a poverty-stricken neighborhood near us) who do nothing but eat junk food all day long.”  I asked him how much time he spent in that neighborhood.  He looked at me like I was nuts and said he never went there.

“So, you probably don’t know,” I said, “that there aren’t any grocery stores in that neighborhood.  There’s nowhere within a reasonable distance for people to get fresh produce, particularly people who don’t have cars.  And there are also no banks, and little in the way of health care.  There are, however, a vast number of cheap fast-food restaurants, some of which you might even own stock in, and convenience stores where overpriced highly processed food is the norm.” (You might be interested in this article on urban ‘food deserts’.)

He didn’t want to talk to me any more after that, and maybe I can’t blame him. I probably sounded a bit snippy, but it always annoys me when someone refers to a group of people as ‘those people’.   A lack of empathy is often at the root of such statements, I find.

Who do you consider, “Those People?”  Who is “Other” to you?  Muslims? Europeans? Canadians? Americans? Rich people? Hollywood types?  Jews? Fundamentalist Christians? Liberal? Conservative? Socialist? Republican? Democrat? What does that say about you?

Or, are you considered one of ‘those people’?  How does that feel?  What would you like to tell the people who have placed you at the margins of their world?

3 Comments

  1. lucky8 on March 11, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Lauren, you are one of my absolutely favorite writers, and I can’t wait to buy a copy of OUR DAILY BREAD.
    With regards to your questions, I like to consider myself open-minded, however I have founbd myself negatively categorizing certain people who have political or other points of view which I find narrow and unempathetic. I love discussions with people who have varying points of view on a particular subject, so I’m not looking for everyone to agree on everything, however I find it distressing when “they” demonstrate no willingness to consider an alternative point of view. So there I am, turning it into an “us” vs “them”. Guilty as charged!

  2. Parisguy on March 13, 2011 at 4:44 am

    Great essay! I am as guilty as Lucky8, as I too have a tendency towards “us” vs “them” thinking. You’ve raised a thought-provoking subject, thanks!

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