Some strong leaders state the words ‘You are with us, or you are against us.” For us Americans in was a rallying cry after 9/11, but the origin of the saying goes well before 2001. There are even references in the bible. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller states “You’re either for us, or against your country.” Even as I type the quote I cringe at the exact wording.
This saying sets up a simplistic dichotomy of being either “for us” or “against us” which does not allow for any nuance or complexity. It assumes that there are only two sides to every issue, and that people must either be for one side or against the other. This is simply not true. There are often many different perspectives on an issue, and people may hold a variety of different views. The world is not black and white, there are shades of grey and there are colors. Forcing someone to pick a side without understanding the nuances is divisive.
The saying also puts pressure on people to make an immediate decision. They may not have the facts but demand one to pick a side. The goal of the statement is often to intimidate someone into allegiance. Knowing that people have this ardent desire to belong, they could make the wrong choice in haste.
Once the choice is made it creates this adversarial situation. This is the “us” versus “them” mentality. The chasm between the two sides continues to grow. This chasm prevents productive conversations from happening and finding resolutions difficult. The divide even creates this unhealthy self-righteousness feeling and allows people to demonize anyone on the other side.
People use this divide to justify their behavior. Including what could be seen as extreme. When there is a crowd with you it is easier to not only act worse, but to get apparent approval from the crowd. They are with you, thus whatever you do they must agree with. Promoting extreme measures on your side is fully justified but also supported. Social media can amplify both the measures and the backing.
Once someone picks a side it is not always possible to speak out against something that side does. There is a fear that if you do speak up you will be thrown out of this clan that you selected. In the worst-case scenario, their extreme measure could be directed at you. This fear and intimidation silences many who otherwise would not have joined if they knew.
Throughout history, leaders of politics and religion have used this divisive phrase to force people to take sides and strengthen their in-group. But most complex issues have more than just two monolithic sides. This saying boxes people into a false choice when truth is often far messier.
I started thinking about this recently for a few reasons. A few weeks ago, in the US local elections were held. In my town we voted for mayor. I noticed something interesting on the signage of both candidates. Neither one stated their party affiliation. There were also signs stating that federal politics have no place in local elections. Both candidates did not want their voters to think that they were all in with their parties, that you were either pro everything one side or the other.
Second, the war in the middle east continues. As I listen to some podcasts and relearn the history and what has been going on there for fifty plus years, I see the situation is more nuanced than ‘for us or against us’ statement.
And third, Kid Rock who slammed Bud Light decided to change his tune. His latest statement “I didn’t want to be in the party of cancel cultures and boycotts that ultimately hurt working-class people.” A few weeks ago, I wrote about not being responsible for your first thought. Here I see Kid Rock got to understand the situation and now is on to his second thought.
All three started me thinking about how we should approach the chasm that separates too many people. The optimist in me would like to see more nuanced thinking around ideas. People to be more open to perspectives outside of this one side or the other. For people to find the strength to speak up, as often there are more that are willing to agree with you. That strength will be needed to overcome those screaming the loudest, as they are not the ones we should be listening to. Though most sides of an issue have key divisions, there are also common values that should bring them together. In the end people care about freedom, safety, justice, family etc. It is finding those values that we can agree on to find a way forward.
So now when I hear the following phrase ‘You are either with us, or against us” I will try to dig the strength to say ‘No, I am not, I can agree with you on one point but disagree other times.’
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This Blog is a labor of love, and was originally going to be a book. With the advent of being able to publish yourself on the web I chose this path. I will write many of these and not worry too much about grammar or spelling (I will try to come back later and fix it) but focus on content. I apologize in advance for my ADD as often topics may flip. I hope one day to turn this into a book and or a podcast, but for now it will remain a blog. AI is not used in this writing other than using the web to find information.Images without notes are created using and AI tool that allows me to reuse them.