Born With Us vs. Them Tendencies, We Can Overcome Differences

Pamela & Jane

The older I get the more intrigued I become with where we derive knowledge and what shapes our view of the world. Apparently we are born with an innate predisposition to favor those who are similar to us (more on that later in this post).

Fortunately we also have the capacity to expand our thinking, as evidenced by the friendship of these two smiling women.

That’s me on the right. On the left, J, one of my best friends. We met nearly 25 years ago before we had any inkling that one of us (moi) wouldn’t be able to bear children.

Our friendship took a beating when our lives moved down different paths. Mine led me into a mind-numbingly confusing maze of infertility diagnoses, surgeries and treatment. Meanwhile, J skipped down a celebratory lane that involved decorating a nursery, meeting moms-to-be in Lamaze classes and well, you get the drift.

She tried mightily, as her family and her social circle grew, to include me in her life — offering to introduce me to new friends some of whom (she swore up and down) weren’t completely or only engrossed in all things mommy. I begged off preferring my non-mom tribe on the rare occasion, post treatment failure, that I felt like socializing at all.

There have been more than a few times when we’ve exasperated or inadvertently hurt each other, but each time we made an effort to explain our thinking, grow our acceptance, forgive and move on. Her children, young still, understand that Auntie Pam wanted children but couldn’t have them and, by the way, not all adults have children and that’s perfectly okay.

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Sharing this knowledge not only prepares J’s children should they one day be diagnosed with a condition leading to infertility, they also possess, as I’ve seen from an early age, an openness and acceptance. They are less judgmental.

J has told me more than a few times about the lesson she’s learned observing my experience: the best thing she can do for her children is to socialize them to accept that not all families look alike, that not all adults are destined to become mothers or fathers. They are growing up with the understanding that women like me are happy — that satisfying, meaningful lives come in many packages.

It seems we can’t be taught too young. Research unfolding in a place called the “Baby Lab” at Yale makes this clear. Researchers studied babies as young as three to five months old and discovered they possess an inherent ability to understand nice and mean behavior. Further, psychology professor Paul Bloom recently told 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl that babies’ “innate morality” is focused on their families and those who are similar to them, but enlightened humans learn to “expand their moral circle.”

Watch the full segment here and share your thoughts.

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13 thoughts on “Born With Us vs. Them Tendencies, We Can Overcome Differences

  1. I am so happy for you and your bestie J!
    I am also lucky to have a friend like that, Mattie.
    Mattie’s children know that Auntie Klara does not have children. One of the kindest things that I have ever heard was Mattie’s then 5-year-old son. He told to his mom: “If Klara wants, we (=he and his baby sister) can belong a little bit to her as well!”.
    Extra cute! I am sure he will be – also as an adult – a man with a beautiful soul.
    I guess Mattie never explained any details. But the little boy understood my feelings.

    1. AWWWWWWWWWWWW…I’m SO touched that a little boy can have such compassion!!!

  2. Karen

    It just feels like some of the us vs. them has to be learned, or that recovering from it is very easy to learn, and that is why kids tend to view different situations as normal for that other person, but an adult might tsk at the other person’s life or choices. My parents’ best friends were childless. It never struck me as odd as a kid. That was just how they were. It never occurred to me to ask my parents why they didn ‘t have kids; they just didn’t. My mom voluntarily told me one time they tried to have kids and the wife miscarried several times, and I remember thinking it was sad they wanted kids and list them, but I never viewed their whole lives as sad because of it. Now as an adult when I meet someone without kids I do wonder if it was voluntary or not. Growing up has probably done this to me. And I think most adults who have or plan to have kids have an attitude that the only proper happy life is someone having kids. How many movies have you seem where however stupidly for that particular movie it ends with marriage and baby? Some movies it totally works for, like Bambi, but other movies, it is so jarring, like the people who wrote the movie are yelling “this is how my life is it must be the only way a movie can end” I will give one example, but I know you’ll think of many more. SPOILERS ahead. I saw the movie Baby Mama. Don’t judge me. it was late and nothing else was on. The heroine is a career woman who realizes age is creeping up on her and wants a baby. She tries to get pregnant, but she can’t, and doctor tells her it is impossible and to use a surrogate. So she does, and surrogate pretends it works for the money. So, what happens? Surrogate really was pregnant, but with her own baby. Heroine finds this out, gets upset, but holy sh-t, just met the man of her dreams and finds out she is miraculously pregnant, too! They both find love and get babies! Hooray! That is stupid. Heroine should’ve met man if dreams and realized baby isn’t happening, but is happy with her new live and life. It is like everything we see around us is working against our natural inclinations of accepting differences and making us learn that there is only one normal way to be happy.

    1. Totally agree, Karen, that we’re steeped in messages celebrating parenthood as the inevitable. BTW: no judging on movie viewing. Sometimes we’ve got to take what’s on.

  3. That’s a very interesting video clip, Pam. THANKS for sharing!

    I feel encouraged by people like J, who also teaches her kids about openness and acceptance from such early ages. :-) KUDOS to all those people!

  4. When I saw on FB that you were with a longtime friend, I was wondering if it was the one you mentioned in your book.

    I thought that segment on 60 Minutes was fascinating when I saw it aired. Thanks for finding the clip — I meant to do that.

  5. Rose

    Here’s someone with definite Us-Vs-Them tendencies – doing non-moms a great disservice and upsetting all camps, it seems:

    1. Oh, yeah, this link, Rose, really stirred up a hornet’s nest, but coming to our aid was this well-argued response:

      Good to know we’ve got reinforcements!

  6. Wow, Pamela, thanks, this was such an interesting item – the foundation of morality. I was fascinated as I watched it, then horrified to see the “little bigots” as they termed them, the selfishness and importance of social hierarchy, then pleased to see the development of generosity. And so I am glad you have such a good friend, and the is “exposing” her children to many different acceptable lifestyles, including those of us without kids. Too many people stay in that undeveloped mid-point, where they don’t accept difference at all.

  7. […] discussed this recently with a dear friend of mine who reminded me that my very early blog posts contained a lot of anger. Yes, I nodded. I also […]

  8. […] and established a new body of knowledge. We have confronted sacred cows. We have explored thorny societal biases. We have elevated bioethics concerns. We have raised important questions about the safety and […]

  9. […] (and those familiar with Silent Sorority, the book) will know that I’ve written about my friend Jane over the years. Like the characters in the film we have challenged and exasperated one another. We […]

  10. […] (and those familiar with Silent Sorority, the book) will know that I’ve written about my friend Jane over the years. Like the characters in the film we have challenged and exasperated one another. We […]

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