Photo of Gloria Cotton

How many times have you heard the following?

  • Black Lives Matter or Respect the Flag & National Anthem
  • #MeToo or Innocent Until Proven Guilty
  • Youth Again Gun Violence or 2nd Amendment Rights
  • We’re a Christian Nation or Religious Freedom Is Protected Under the 2nd Amendment
  • Pro Choice or Pro Life
  • Stronger Immigration Laws or Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor …

Are these really this OR that statements? Why not both? Let’s see. Let’s look at these same things, but just change the connector (or in these cases disconnector) from “or” to “and.”


How about this:

  • Black Lives Matter AND Respect the Flag & National Anthem
  • #MeToo AND Innocent Until Proven Guilty
  • Youth Again Gun Violence AND 2nd Amendment Rights
  • We’re a Christian Nation AND Religious Freedom Is Protected Under the 2nd Amendment
  • Pro Choice AND Pro Life
  • Stronger Immigration Laws AND Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor …

Neuroscience (and uncommon common sense) tells us that our reactions to people and things we agree and disagree with are directly related to our relationships with them. And our relationships (mind-set, heart-set) influence how our biases and survival instincts are triggered and, in turn, trigger our thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

In other words, what I hear, see, notice, believe, and feel is related to who and how we interact.

Not only that, but, according to Baumeister & Leary, 1995:

”being associated with a specific, valued peer group promotes positive self-regard; thus humans are motivated to build and maintain social ties for the physical and psychological benefits they bestow, and will suffer when these ties are threatened. Negative feedback from other individuals is upsetting because of the threat it poses to affiliative bonds and to the physical and psychological benefits they entail.”

Pretty strong stuff. So, here it is: We all want our tribes, our peeps, buds and chums, colleagues, pals, friends and like-minded, easy-to-be-with birds of a feather. Sometimes the thing that gives us the golden ticket to tribal membership is obvious, sometimes not. Sometimes the door-, mind- and heart-openers are the shared joys and pains of being the same race, personality or age. It may be shared values, practices, beliefs, or fears. Oh yeah, sometimes the things that bring us together are not positive.

The question is, is that coming together sustained after the danger is gone?

We can and often do demonstrate that we can all work and live together, fighting for each other’s rights to life and to be welcomed, valued, respected, and heard. Example: When most human beings are fighting for survival—whatever the cause: social, political, forces of nature—people quickly come together and, without discussion, laws, bills, or edicts, operate from the unspoken principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Notice what that statement does and doesn’t say. It says we choose to stand together and fight a common foe because we need each other to survive. But it doesn’t say that my enemy becomes my friend. In many cases, those same people who stood shoulder to shoulder and back to back go back to their corners, sides of the railroad tracks, etc., and get back into their exclusionary stance against people and things who are “other.”

So, here are my questions:

  • Must we continue this dance of survival when we feel we and/or something about us is not welcomed, valued, respected, and heard?
  • How do we create relationships and cultures where we can talk about the things we have in common and the things that are different about us without feeling and experiencing either as matters of survival, of literally life and death?
  • How do we stop and change the music (the rhetoric, the underpinnings and energetic stimulant) and the dance (our actions/reactions)?

Here are some suggestions:

Let’s identify our own needs and our hopes and fears about them.

  • What are the things that we MUST have? WANT to have? Would LIKE to have? Don’t really care one way or the other? Why am I discussing, pushing for, arguing about this? All to often we may find ourselves fighting wars of generations long since past.
  • What happens and what will I do if my safety or that of someone or something important to me is threatened or uncertain?

Let’s tell the truth.

  • Keep in mind that our answers may differ in context and content from the answers of others. Truths and facts are personal and don’t touch or define everyone and sometimes not anyone else. AND, they’re important and sometimes precious to each of us.
  • Bolster dignity for everyone, our history, present experience, and hoped-for futures. We can’t change the past. It is what it is. The fascinating thing about “the present” is that each moment has both past and future in it. So, decide how you’ll react now and in the future to impact your future present. Did you follow that?

Key Takeaways

And here are some quick tips to help us demonstrate and earn welcoming, valuing, respecting, and hearing to and from others:

Seek contrary evidence

  • Check filters and assumptions
  • Review the criteria
  • Be assertive and ask questions without judgment or attachment to what you hear
  • Reframe
  • Gather evidence
  • Evaluate and decide next steps that honor you and others

Build consensus

  • Agree to disagree
  • Acknowledge when something feels uncomfortable and negotiate ways you and others can work together to minimize and/or eliminate the discomfort
  • Confirm what has to happen to move forward in ways that honor you and others

Expand your network and net-world

  • Expand your knowledge and comfort by expanding your knowledge and comfort
  • Realize that all you know is all YOU know, not all there IS to know
  • Invite someone into your tribe you never would have before, then listen and learn about their diversity (lives, experiences, joys, sorrows, hopes, etc.)