THEMification is a very real and dangerous epidemic. This deeply engrained way of thinking prohibits ‘us’ from seeing ‘others’ as anything other than a collective THEM. How do we reverse this? How do we undo the years of THEMification? One solution is the four C’s.
First, we mustbe CONSCIOUS. Watch for that stereotypical phrase, “THEY ALWAYS”. We can only change something once we’re aware of it.
Second, be CURIOUS. Let curiosity replace our judgments and assumptions. What is it like In Their Shoes?
Third, be COMPASSIONATE towards ourselves and to others. Brain research shows we‘re much happier and more open when we’re compassionate.
Finally, CHALLENGE everything we see, believe, and are told. Challenge media reports about THEM. Challenge what we have always ‘KNOWN’ about THEM. Fight the urge to support and defend our positions. When we catch others THEMifying, CHALLENGE.
The four Cs really work and I’ve seen it played out in many real world situations.
For years India and Pakistan had no diplomatic relations and risked nuclear war. I helped catalyze a group of 133 top Indian business leaders, who walked across the Wagah border to meet with their Pakistani counterparts. The Indians were expecting to step into a terrorist hellhole, the ultimate THEM, but with ample security.
After we spent three days together, the participants all became CONSCIOUS of their stereotypes, CURIOUS about the other’s narrative, COMPASSIONATE, and CHALLENGED their preconceived notions.
This allowed them to really see their commonalities- that the Indians and Pakistanis look the same, share a cultural heritage, andare one people. THEM had been dispelled.
The 4 Cs also work on a personal level.
I try to be CONSCIOUS of my own THEM prejudices, but it’s NOT easy.
Three years ago, I was in Syria with my family. We are walking and hear “a loud mob chanting”. Instantly freak out, I’m triggered into a state of FEAR and want to protect my family because we’re ‘in Syria’.
I feel foolish when I’m CURIOUS,go closer and find that it’s a promotion for giving chocolate on Mother’s Day.
My CURIOSITY and willingness to CHALLENGE my fears mean that I didn’t return with a story of escaping ‘something horrible in dreaded Syria,’ but instead, join the festivities, and am hoisted on the shoulders of THEM, my new friends.
We ALL have a long way to go, including me, but every step forward IS significant.
Be compassionate and
CHALLENGE, CHALLENGE, CHALLENGE
There is NO them when you KNOW them.