Human Conflict by Rob Etherson

An introduction by our guest editor, Degna Stone:

This piece asks more questions than it answers. Mostly it asks us to think about how our ties to our identities influences our ideas of those who are not like us. The thing that makes this piece unusual are some of the identifiers that are revealed at the end.

I spent years and years in therapy, trying to work out why I felt like shit most of the time. Eventually, I realised that I had to come to terms with the truth about my past, especially my abusive and negligent parents.  After that, life became more comfortable. On the other hand, maybe it was more tolerable. Perhaps a bit of both. For some reason though, I still felt conflicted with the world and some of the people in it.  Not all of the time but definitely more than I wanted to.

After more years and years of soul searching and looking for answers, I finally understood that I wasn’t alone.  It seemed that most people were conflicted, in one way or another. And it also seemed, that the source of this conflict lay with the individual’s need to take pride in or feel ashamed of their identity.  Their, “I am… ” statements, so to speak. What’s more, I noticed that the individual could only lay claim to their identity by judging and condemning other people.  Otherwise, their “I am…?” statement would be ludicrous. It made simple sense. A man who takes pride in his “I am White” identity, needs to believe that all other colours are inferior.  In the same way, a woman who is ashamed of her “I am Overweight” identity needs to loathe the Body-Beautiful types.

I’m not saying that having an identity is the problem.  After all, we need our identities to socialise and communicate with each other.  For example, if we want a pair of shoes or a broken leg mended, then we need to know who the cobbler or doctor is.  Right? What I am saying, is that using an identity for personal gain creates conflict because the individual must condemn another person to do so.  And when the other person feels this, they retaliate.

To test my theory, I thought of all the ideas and concepts that I use to construct and maintain my own identity.  Then, I thought about their opposites to find out if this generated any conflict. It did. Every time. Following that, I asked myself if any of my opposites were superior in any way.  That was a hard pill to swallow. Immediately, I tried copping-out by declaring that my opposites were equal. After all, I saw myself as a Fair and Open-Minded Man. No luck with that one though.  I live with a critical inner voice and it said, “If your opposites are equal, then choose to be one of them instead.” I had to concede that my opposites had to be inferior; otherwise, my idea of who and what I was would be redundant.  A self-piteous man with an “I am Poor” identity will see Rich people as corrupt and uncaring. He rarely congratulates them for their luck or hard work and success. On the other hand, an arrogant woman with an “I am Rich” identity will see Poor people are lazy, non-triers.

This idea isn’t new.  It’s well known, that comparing ourselves to others leads to vanity, bitterness and eventually war.  And, all the best philosophical, therapeutic and spiritual schools advise against it. However, they don’t say that it’s practically impossible.  Because without this behaviour, the individual is left feeling like nothing and no-one.  In a sense, feeling proud or ashamed of an identity and condemning our opposites, lets us know that we exist.

Who would we be and what would we do if we didn’t feel proud or ashamed of our identities?  If the individual stopped trying to squeeze existential juice from these ephemeral notions, for just a moment, would all conflict end?

I am.  Therefore, you are not.

I am a Mammal.  Therefore, you are too.

I am a Human.  Therefore, you are too.

I am Male.  Therefore, you are not.

I am Heterosexual.  Therefore, you are not.

I am White.  Therefore, you are not.

I am British.  Therefore, you are not.

I am Working Class.  Therefore, you are not.

I am Conservative.  Therefore, you are not.

I am Professional.  Therefore, you are not.

I am Uneducated.  Therefore, you are not.

I am Manchester United.  Therefore, you are not.

I am a Vegetarian.  Therefore, you are not.

I am Fashionable.  Therefore, you are not.

I am Spiritual.  Therefore, you are not

I am…………………?  Therefore, you are not.

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