‘Us’ versus ‘them’ or similarity is attractive- the basic social rule that you are not aware of

You might be familiar with the saying “Opposite attracts”. It’s been around for generations as some might recall. I might think that the recent phenomenon that people use to elucidate the ambiguous chemical reaction which is called “love”. Thinking from the instinctual standpoint, one might find a very hot headed and outgoing man can go along with a silent type girl with the love for reading, or the one who knows nothing about math can love a crazy scientist guy who is totally incomparable to her physically, are totally unreasonable and hard to comprehend. Hence, the phrase “Opposite attracts” was born.

From psychological point of view, opposite does not attract, instead similarity is attractive. In general situation between a human being and another human beings, what matters is what they share in terms of norms and values, ways of speaking, religious beliefs and cultural practices.There comes to the situation of dividing on two sides: “Us” versus “them”.

And when we think of it, the problems of the world only lies on this thin line – a divide between “us” vs “them”

Looking back at the evolutionary history of human beings (let’s not debate about God creates us all here), it’s shown that human beings are social animals. People lived in groups, tasks were divided among individuals – men went out hunting, women stayed at homes gathering crops, vegetables and making clothes, some made weapons, some made pottery and so one. Individuals relied on each other to increase the survival chance and provide security to each other. One individual who was too different from others and could not be accepted into any group would face with the risk of starving and death. Therefore, individuals always seek to lump into one group with other, to survive and prosper.

After thousands years of evolution, in modern societies, we do not need to be worry about food supplies or security anymore as we have own home, we can go to supermarkets and buy food. We go to work without interacting with anyone and we still live on. No problem with that. However, as the instinct of a social animal, the desire to belong in a group arouses the feeling of loneliness within us. One without the sense of belonging feels left out, unwanted and marginalized and as a result, they end up being corned mentally. Depression and loneliness are detrimental to the health as badly as smoking. It will eventually hurt oneself physically. They are like demons eating from inside, chomping on every single piece of meat and left them bared with bones, shivering under the coldness and sunk in the labyrinth of melancholy with no way out.

Setting the blue feeling aside, what we know is human seeks to be in group, seek to feel belonged and furthermore, recognized for their own uniqueness. In a paper written by Shore et al. (2008), the authors state that one needs a balance between a sense of belonging and a sense of uniqueness to feel inclusive, to achieve a sense of satisfaction in workplace in particular. I could say that in any social situation, that is a golden standard to view on. A sense of belonging is when an individual realizes the similarity, the shared goals or values or attributes with the group, one is granted the group membership which will give oneself a sense of power and privilege of in-group. However, if one’s own uniqueness is not accepted or recognized by other group members, one will feel assimilated. For example, I, as an Asian, want to integrated with my European classmates, however I also desire my classmate to acknowledge my own value and experience as an Asian rather than being downgraded because I did not share the same experience as my classmates.

So, why do people like to be in group? Other than due to their primary cognitive design?

People in a same group have a lots of advantages compared to others. In a stone age day, people shared food, shared security, shared homes and places to live. In a modern world, people share information, network and influence. Many literature pointed out that in labor market, a person with a firm connection with employers can easily get a job than one without. It’s nothing new to our society. In Japan, if you study with a same professor as your seniors, you will get better chance at promotion and career opportunities. Group exclusive is proven by that in-group members tend to overestimate skills and attributes of in-group and underestimate one of out-group.

In my master thesis, I discovered that Japanese expatriates considered Japanese employees as more efficient and hardworking than other nationalities, here is European. It might be a matter of fact that Japanese work harder than others because they ordinarily spend more than 8 hours, sometimes 10-12 hours at work. However, it is questionable whether Japanese is more efficient or more qualified than others. First, Japanese companies and managers have designed a framework of skill assessment upon which performance of workers are evaluated and classified. Their framework is influenced heavily based on their view of what is constituted of a hardworking and prospective worker and the reflection of Japanese social value of being submissive, group-oriented and disciplinary. Compared to Western value, in particular example is cases of Dutch workers who is prone to be open, straight forward and family oriented, Japanese framework is insufficient to estimate the quality of Dutch workers. The fact that a lot of Japanese managers are concerned about Dutch ways of working and say they need to change to match Japanese quality and firmly concluded that Japanese are better workers, is supportive to the statement that in-group people underestimate the qualities of out-group people.

Another example coming from cultural perspective which I find very intriguing. In my home country, Vietnam, the impression of Western families is that they did not care for children as much as Asian and they let children be free on their own without helping which is seen as a sign of abandonment and irresponsibility from parent sides. Westerners are cold as ice, said by my late grandmother. I heard a complete contrasting story when interviewing a Dutch family that I got friendly with. They said in their eyes, Asians appear to be cold, distancing themselves from others, not caring enough for their children. Yes, exactly what Asian think of European. Both sides think that “We care a lot more for the children than them, we value family” and so one. Basically, we all think ourselves better than others. When coming to culture, it is broaden into a bigger scale, a national and ethnic scale.

Examples can go on and on. One religion thinks they can rule the world and other religious values do not matter. A person think he/she is above average while in fact most of people are average and mediocre. Only a small percentage belongs to the elite and super awesome group.

Even though we are aware of the group categorization tendency, it is hard to fight off natural reaction sometimes. Isn’t the guy with similar accent more appealing to you? Or the girl from Asia seem too shy and you rather talking to your Western fellow?

Isn’t it a little hard sometimes?

I do think it is hard, most of the time. I can’t help thinking in stereotype and discriminating someone based on their ethnicity in some cases, however effort I put in to be more open, I still felt alert when walking on the street all alone at night, coming late from the library and accidentally saw an African or Moroccan guy on the street. I once was spitted on by a Moroccan saying I am a dirty Chinese (I am not though), so that I felt a significant caution toward those kinds of people. I know it is not right and have to fight the thought off many times.

Being open is hard, once you learn being radical and discriminating from childhood, it’s a long process to unlearn it.

In final note, I have discussed some aspects of group and categorization. It can be detrimental to a certain groups in some certain cases, but it is beneficial to a certain group under another circumstance. A person with disability or mental illness needs to be treated differently and given privileges than normal ones, or students with financial troubles should receive financial aid and support and given priority. Equality is not always justified and grouping is what social security system is based on. We should understand it and apply the knowledge in a proper cases and circumstance.

When meeting up with another person with different value, different taste and beliefs, we can dislike it, we can argue and discuss on the matters and then after all, we respect the values and norms of others.

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