Common Ground

I don’t like to join groups, even groups with which I have much in common. Not wanting to be classified as a dangerous “loner”, I have thoroughly examined this tendency in myself in order to defend it should I ever be summoned by the Committee to Expose Non-Team-Players.

Why is it that when we come together, ostensibly to experience some sort of community based on common experience or belief, we end up trying to establish how different we are? Different from those others, different from that group over there. After spending a cursory amount of time concretizing our common factors in the form of a creed, or Bible, or corporate mission, we immediately set about defining our boundaries — making our Rules — making sure everyone follows the Rules. We think of all the grubby little finger pointing we’ll get to do when someone breaks the Rules. We marvel at how much better our Rules are than those of the heathens over there. Look at them! They don’t wear clothes, or eat onions, or pray! It’s not enough that we’ve discovered something really cool. We have to make sure everyone knows that it’s the only cool thing in the universe. It’s cooler than all other cool things, world without end, amen. And it belongs exclusively to our group. Not that one. This one.

And then someone in the group has a change of heart or learns something or begins to question the wisdom of worshipping blue when everyone’s blind. So we get another group! And they spend most of their time celebrating the day they split from the first group until finally they get so obnoxious about it that the first group declares war on them. And then there’s a lot of killing and breast-beating and general confusion and all of that original common ground that brought everyone together in the first place is forgotten. It happens in everything from churches to rock bands to revolutions.

I think if no one saw themselves as part of a set group, if we were all wandering around groupless, each time we met someone we’d have to figure out what we had in common. We would have to spend time mapping it out with each person, and in the process we would have to get to know each person, and there would be no faceless enemies, no inhuman monsters, no crusades, no ethnic cleansing. Because you’d never know who might like the ice cream you like, or who thinks they’re going somewhere after they die, or whose favorite movie is West Side Story, too. Until you asked them. And once you ask them, it’s almost always too late.

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