While reflecting on conflicts and other issues in the media, I realized that how people define and prioritize the characteristics of “People like me” shapes how they and we relate to others. Some characteristics can build community, and priorities for other characteristics challenge community.
I am a 70-year old white, male, cisgender* Anglo-Saxon, protestant with a bit above middle class economic status, born and raised in Alberta as a third to fifth generation Canadian with roles as a minister and a teacher, married, father, with radical political and religious views who enjoys canoeing, hiking, camping, gardening, etc., and I can add many more items to that list. The priorities I set for deciding who is like me include attitude towards other people and commitment to building a better world. I most easily form community with people who want to build a better world. Things such as race, age, gender identity, and religion matter very little.
For some people, support for a particular sports teams, economic status, religion, race or other characteristics matter more. I believe many parents send children to exclusive schools because they want their children socializing with the children of other wealthy people.
As we look at conflicts near or far away, it is important to understand the characteristics that are being used by participants in those conflicts to determine “who is like me”, and “who is not like me”. Understanding this version of a sorting hat (as Harry Potter might say) can help us gain insight into the causes for conflict.
As followers of Jesus, we pursue the vision offered by Jesus for communities defined by caring for one another. Understanding how we sort people can help us review how we help or hinder Christ’s vision and overcome the challenges to building community.
*Cisgender: an adjective for someone whose gender corresponds to their assigned sex