I think we are born to categorize the world into “us” and “them.” It’s an ugly mentality, but it’s one that is familiar to me. Sometimes, it seems that my brain can so easily disregard someone just because I perceive that person as “not like me.” I’ve noticed that we are attracted to people who have similar life experiences as us. We like people who understand us and people whom we don’t have to explain ourselves to. We like to use mental shortcuts to make us feel like we understand someone before we take the time to get to know them. This “us” versus “them” mentality can be a dangerous shortcut, making us feel like there are certain people we don’t need to care about. But what does scripture say? Love others as we love ourselves. Where is the “us” versus “them” in that?
I recently watched Hotel Rwanda at the Intercultural Film Festival here on campus. Hotel Rwanda tells the story of the Rwandan Genocide, in which a people group called the Hutus tried to wipe out every Tutsi. The Hutus and Tutsis had previously been neighbors and friends, but radio propaganda convinced the Hutus that the Tutsis were nothing more than “cockroaches.” In particular, the film follows a Hutu named Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who turned a five-star hotel into a hiding place for 1,268 Hutu and Tutsi refugees. Through the course of the film, I noticed how Paul went from caring only for his Tutsi wife and children to risking his life to save people he had little to no connection with. The people he previously saw as “them” turned into “us.” In fact, you could almost say they turned into “me,” since he loved them enough to risk his own life.
So what makes the difference in our own hearts? How do we turn “them” into “us”? How do we obey the Biblical command to love others as we love ourselves? I’ve found that the people I’m most concerned about are the ones I put the most effort into knowing. As history professor Trisha Posey once told me, it’s on us to reach out to people that will challenge our stereotypes and prejudices. It’s on us to care about people.
My friend, Roberto Pozuelo, takes this responsibility seriously. He told me it’s normal for people to look for others like them, and it is easy for a Walton like him to only hang out with other Walton’s. However, Pozuelo said that he is intentional about relating to Americans and has chosen every year to have an American roommate. “I don’t want to be put in a box,” he said.
In my own experience, getting to know groups of people who are different from me can sometimes be frustrating and other times very rewarding. It’s frustrating because I don’t have the shared experiences that draw the group together, and it can be hard to relate. It’s easy to feel like an outsider. But it’s rewarding when your own idea of the world starts to change because you’ve met people who have shown you a different way of looking at it. It’s rewarding when you find more people in the world that you love.
The thing that keeps us separated—not understanding the world as others do—is the very thing that makes us better people when we finally break through our natural barriers.
So, I challenge you: have a meal with someone you don’t know today. If you want a more difficult challenge, sit with a whole group of people you don’t know. And when you do, make an effort to get to know them, understand their perspectives on life and even start to care about them. You might just find that the people you thought were “them” end up becoming your favorite “us.”