Can you feel the love?
It’s kind of a cliché, sometimes said as a joke. But it points to a real problem.
For any society to survive, its people need to cooperate. That requires at least a minimum level of trust and concern for each other’s welfare. We need to “feel the love.”
It’s easiest to feel that way toward our families and close relatives. Our biology makes it almost automatic. Humanity evolved to feel that way through the process of kin selection.
But it’s harder to feel that way toward non-relatives. We need empathy, the ability to imagine how they feel and the inclination to care about it.
The more that people differ from us, the harder it is for us to see the world through their eyes and know how they feel. Differences such as nationalities, races, belief systems, and languages can all become barriers — or even worse, triggers of hatred and aggression.
The English poet Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) is seldom read today, but he put it very well in his poem “The Stranger:”
“The Stranger within my gate,
He may be true or kind,
But he does not talk my talk —
I cannot feel his mind.
I see the face and eyes and mouth,
But not the soul behind.
The men of my own stock,
They may do ill or well,
But they tell the lies I’m wanted to,
They know the lies I tell;
And we do not need interpreters
When we go to buy or sell.”
For small communities where everyone knows everyone else, it’s not a problem. The same applies to very homogeneous societies, where people tend to react similarly, have the same basic beliefs, and make the same assumptions.
For diverse societies, however, it’s a challenge.
The more we differ, the more we need to communicate in order to understand and trust each other. Just saying “diversity is our strength” can’t solve the problem. It might make us feel good, but it won’t accomplish anything beyond that (or make it true).
Communication is key. We need to reach out to people “across the aisle,” whatever the aisle happens to be.
It will take extra work to understand each other. Maybe we can’t agree about everything, but we can at least try to live peacefully and cooperate for mutual benefit.
It’s not everything, but it’s a good start.
Check out my new book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Kirkus Reviews called it an “impressively nuanced analysis.”