Us Vs. Them
Several months ago, I got into a fight with my wife. Like most rows, I now can't even remember how the spat started. Knowing me, I probably picked a fight over something as trivial as what type of food we would be eating that night (Burritos? Pesto pasta?). As our bickering continued, the original catalyst morphed and the decibel level increased. Our tones became less than pleasant and I put on my shoes. Before closing the door behind me, I said something to the effect of, "If they ain't blood, they ain't family."
Growing up in rural Tennessee, that specific saying means a lot. It is a conversation stopper. Discussion ender. Familial blood means everything. It would be rare to find a Tennessean that would disagree. Appalachians would scrap with Goliath over family (whether you like them or not). It is assumed that bloodline is what separates us from them.
Kicking pebbles around the neighborhood, I cycled the localism in my head and attempted to further reinforce my position. How could I be wrong? Surely I was justified in my remark. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. If they ain't blood, they ain't family. Repeat. Blood means family. Repeat.
I simmered down and returned home. For the next while, I walked on egg-shells and did my best to avoid rekindling the fire I had stupidly set. Yet, I kept thinking about the concept of family. Moreover, I thought about us and them.
Over the next days I became very rational and explored us. The nature of us is acceptance, a core component found in Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. It is what brings together familial units and best friends. The notion in action brings together municipalities in times of tragedy and forms fan-clubs for obscure bands. It is why a break-time smoker will always have a companion and why a veteran will have brothers until the end.
I attached this thinking to my concept of family. My family feels bigger than just my blood relatives. There is my surrogate family in Asia. There are my families-in-law. Then the family of friends spread out all over the world. Would I not run to my wife's mother if she was in need or support my best mates through anything? Would I not stand by my old roommates or those who have provided me with emotional shelter? And what of the furry family that have kept the bed warm and soothed tears shed in secret? The more I thought about the idea of us, the larger the group became. Very few in this growing body shared my blood.
To contrast, I moved to them. the descriptor of separation. An idea promoted by the wickedest of despots. An idea that has perpetuated wars. The ideal that has led societies to build physical and metaphorical walls. The archaic ideology that acts as the chasm that holds LOVE captive. The concept of them is such an engrained "understanding," many consider it to endure into the afterlife. I dove deeper and found that, when connected to bloodline, the concept of them rarely produces anything but suffering and tyranny.
Three weeks after the fight with my wife and my musings on us and them, I found myself in Canada. Spread before me was one version of family. My wife's parents, cousins, siblings, uncles, aunts, grandparents and distant relatives... Each one still seemingly a stranger but so familiar. They shared extended hugs and inside jokes. They ribbed each other over some public buffoonery from years ago. There was the uncle that wore the tacky shirt and the guy that wanted to be left alone because he is the accepted lone wolf. The beauty queen and the youngster who wanted to stay up late. The cousin who loved golf and new mother appropriately obsessed with her child. They were as typical as my own blood-unit. Kindly, each and every one of "them" treated me as though I had been there all along, like I was blood. Like I belonged.
I immediately thought back to the harsh words spoken in baseless anger weeks before. Noticing the scene in front of me, I completed a reflective cycle and gained new understanding. Those "strangers" were my family. They had long ago accepted me. It was my own mental compartmentalization that created the illusion of separation. After all, it isn't bloodline that distinguishes us from them. What separates us is a lack of empathy, lack of understanding, ignorance and our constant companion fear.
In that moment there was only us, an idea that moves past family and becomes applicable to all human interaction.
Award winning photographer based in Tokyo, Japan. Specializing in portrait photography, he shoots a variety of portraiture, editorial, and event, and commercial photography assignments. Andy is a husband, father, and lover of fried food.