You may have noticed that I say we a lot. Good ol’ first person plural pronoun. I like we because it can convey inclusivity. We can stand in for you and I and him and her and everyone else. We can mean all of us, together. Though that may seem rather simple and obvious, I think it’s incredibly significant. Because whatever this is we’re in right now, we’re in it together. We’ve got one planet to care for or destroy. And we are the only human species left on the planet. For everything that makes one person different from the 7.5 billion others, we are more alike than we are different.
But while there is an all-inclusive we in theory, it often fails to materialize in the real world. A we that embraces everyone doesn’t come naturally. It has to be cultivated, fought for, and protected.
There is often a suspicion of others. Can they be trusted? Are they like me? Are they nice to me and appreciate who I am? If there’s any kind of we at all, it starts and often remains as a very small group. Just the people who seem safe, trustworthy, and have many of the same traits and beliefs as you do. Human consciousness begins with clear-cut ingroups and outgroups. Us and them. If there’s a we it’s an exclusive one: “he and I, but not you.” Other people are labeled as those, them, and you in a way that suggests they are wholly different from me and my ingroup.
And oftentimes there isn’t even an exclusive we. Just billions of individuals bumping into each other on the street and online. These are my needs and desires. How are they going to be fulfilled? Why should I give a shit about anyone else’s?
No one’s taking the time to listen to me. Why should I listen to them?
My significant other never goes out of their way for me. Why should I for them?
That person never likes what I post. Why would I like any of their stuff?
That movement doesn’t help people like me. What do I care?
Many of us see fellow humans as competitors in a zero-sum game. If someone else is winning, I’m losing. If I want to win, someone else needs to lose. We don’t see we as something to aspire to because it seems like the more I pay attention to and support others the less my own needs and desires will be met. I have to look out for number one.
Though much of this way of seeing the world comes from our less mature human nature, the culture of individualism has been strongly encouraged and reinforced by social forces. It’s in the interest of elites and those who have power to keep everyone else thinking they’re in a zero-sum competition. That way a revolting we can never establish itself and overturn the status quo. If you can get people to think of themselves as unrelated, nothing-in-common individuals in a dog-eat-dog world, it’s much less likely they’ll band together and bring about change. If you bombard people with self-image and status ideals (and products that allegedly achieve them) so that they’re preoccupied with their own health, beauty, popularity, and wealth, there won’t be much time or interest to observe that the way society is set up isn’t really working for anyone. If you can get people deeply absorbed in clicks and likes and shares of content that’s been pre-selected by algorithm for their enjoyment, they will rarely see the suffering, brokenness, and uniqueness of other’s lives.
Most things are shaped around and cater to the individual.
Do you see that? Did you already know about this? How are we (there’s that word again) going to break through it?
As pleasant as it can feel when you’re in control, no one can go it alone forever. You came into the world through the love and support of at least a few other people–family and close friends, most likely. Who fed and held and changed you when you were born?
As we make our way through childhood and well into adulthood, we’re dependent on countless others. Teachers, neighbors, doctors, local businesspeople, bankers, baristas, bus drivers, garbagemen…
I don’t think that me and you and them and everyone else are in a zero-sum game. Every human being has a number of goods–needs–in common. You, as a human being, need and want many of the same things I do. The more I do what I can to support your needs, the more likely our shared world will become commonly good for everyone. We are all in this together. We’re in this as a collective, not as utterly separate individuals.
More than ever, we need to come together as we. We each need to force ourselves to be face-to-face with as many other people near and far as we can. And we need to figure out how to patiently understand our differences and embrace.
There truly are major power and welfare imbalances in the time and place we live. There is major social dysfunction and a lack of imagination and effort for the common good. If we want things to be different, we each have to figure out how to be less self-centered, less distracted, and less suspicious of others. And become an all-inclusive we. We is precious, vital. And without it nothing is going to change.