There Are Lots of People “Not Like You” and That’s Fine
I was reading an article recently written by college professor Rupert W Nacoste Ph.D. on Psychology Today’s website. In it, he talks about a student who suggested he include mental health conditions as an example of neo-diversity.
It’s an interesting article, on a couple of levels. First, the reality of how much we can negatively impact someone dealing with a mental health struggle with a poor response to them sharing their story: From the original student suggestion, for example:
“I mean how learning someone has a mental health condition can push an ingroup/outgroup feeling into a relationship.”
It is that idea, that someone we have always had a certain type of relationship with, suddenly becomes the “other” when they reveal a mental health struggle, that can be massively damaging to the person, let alone the relationship. In considering whether to add this as one of the examples in his lectures, he talked about a paper a previous student had written about dealing with terrible depression, and even a suicide attempt during their freshman year of school. The response they got after talking to a friend was not helpful, it was a perfect example of someone who had never struggled with this level of pain, stigmatizing the person who was.
That lack of understanding, or even an attempt to understand, is incredibly harmful in a personal relationship. But, it’s more than that. This inability to see beyond our ingroup is dangerous for society.
This idea is a very real thing, if you don’t believe me, just spend a few minutes looking at Twitter. You’ll see example after example of ingroup/outgroup thinking, usually disguised by referring to “tribes”. We seem to thrive when we consider ourselves part of a tribe, and that’s pretty normal and OK. We need to know we aren’t alone, that we are part of a group. It’s part of our DNA. The question is, do we want to evolve beyond the simple tribal patterns. Once upon a time, it was safest for us to be able to recognize our tribe, and be fearful of everyone that was not like us. In 2019, that old instinct is not what we should be striving for, but it sure seems to be popular. As Rupert describes it:
Language communities as a topic has to do with how we talk to each other from different group standpoints. One of the keys to productive interpersonal (and intergroup) dialogues is partner responsiveness—engaging in honest self-disclosure and receiving a response from your interaction partner that seems to show understanding, validation, and caring. To develop healthy relationships, this partner responsiveness must be mutual. (1)
It turns out that one of the challenges of neo-diversity is to have interactions with people “…not like you” and respond to their stories with interpersonal respect, with partner responsiveness. Too often today in neo-diversity interactions, people respond with culture-centric negative social judgments: My group’s way is the only way.
The question is, how do you respond to someone who is being their authentic self, but is different from your tribe?
Personally, I feel very strongly about this because I am someone who actually crosses across a number of “tribes” who don’t normally see eye to eye on things. That’s because I’m an individual, just like everyone of you are. Tribalism attempts to take that away. Instead of being Mike, I get defined by being male, straight, a child abuse survivor, American, someone who lives in the South, my religion, or lack of religion, my political views, etc.
I am, in fact, different from every single person inside and outside of those defined tribes that I may belong to. So are you.
If someone you know, and assume, is part of your tribe, turns out to be a survivor of abuse, a victim of assault, or even just someone dealing with depression, can you respond to that with understanding, validation and caring? What about their religion? Their sexuality? Their political opinions? Are you evolved enough to accept that your group’s way is not the only way? That other people can be different and still be human beings, just like we are?
When we move away from that, we only encourage people to not be themselves, to keep secrets, and hide their struggles. No one benefits from that.