Us is the inclusive part of human nature. Us is the God-given desire for relationships, community and fellowship. Us is the instinct that inspired our ancestors to live together, first as families, and then as clans, villages, cities, nations, kingdoms and empires. Us lies at the heart of declarations such as
• “I love you.”
• “I pledge allegiance …”
• “Welcome to the club.”
• “You’re my best friend.”
• “I’ve got your back.”
Us is the embodiment of cooperation, camaraderie and teamwork. The book of Revelation hints that it’s also a preview of heaven. The worship scene in Revelation 7:9-12 is the very pinnacle of “us-ness.”
Them is the hazardous byproduct of us. The origins of them are murky. At some point early in human history, someone determined that not everyone deserved us-ness. Perhaps as a result of the Fall, people came to the realization that the best way to strengthen us was to create a them.
Them is the exclusive part of human nature. Them is the sin-stained desire to establish a more prestigious and selective us by denying us-ness to certain people. Them feeds and bruises egos in equal measure. Few experiences in life are as thrilling as being included in a select group. Likewise, few experiences in life are as devastating as being deemed unworthy to join such a group.
Them gives us a reason to indulge in the worst aspects of our sinful nature. Them is the dark heart of bullying, Them is the justification for war. Them creates refugee crises. Them caused the Holocaust.
The dynamic of us and them is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it drives national elections and government policies. That’s why Galatians 3:28 stands as one of the most subversive passages in all of Scripture. In it, the apostle Paul declares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In Christ Jesus, there is no us and them.
How is such a radical shift in perspective possible?
Empathy, in its purest form, is us trying to see through the eyes of them. That’s not to say that empathy is the same as agreement. It’s not. Some us-and-them schisms are the results of two differing, yet very deeply held, beliefs. Empathy is the bridge that spans the schism and allows us and them to explore one another’s territory. Ideally, the result is a common ground where us and them can coexist.
Empathy opens the door to meaningful interaction between us and them. Empathy seeks to understand. Empathy lowers defenses. Empathy doesn’t presume to announce, “I know how you think and feel”; empathy humbly says, “I want to understand how you think and feel.”
Empathy is in short supply in our culture. That’s why the people who practice it are among our most valuable resources.