“We won the Superbowl!!”
“No”, I think, “You didn’t. The team you support did.” I smile. I say nothing.
I suppose I am an individualist. I rarely, if ever, consider myself part of a collective. I am not truly passionate about a sport, so I obviously don’t go there with any sports team. But I do, quite fervently, consider myself a liberal, a feminist, an agnostic. I don’t self-identify as part of those groups.
Human beings are tribal creatures. We are biologically programmed to survive as a group, not as individuals. That’s what we’ve done ever since we were cave people. We specialized. Some were hunters. Some were gatherers. Some stayed at home and cooked and looked after the children. Some practiced herbal medicine. Some made cave paintings.
(Imagine the painters’ parents telling them to get a “regular” job like hunter-gatherer :-))
Most importantly, some defended their tribe against other tribes. “We” against “they”.
In everyday conversation, I like to notice how people use the word “we”. “We” binds you into a group with your spouse, your family, your friends. With your home-town sports team. With your religion. With your country. “We” draws us closer together, helps us form units, makes us belong. The only problem with “we” is that, for every “we” there is a corresponding “they” — the other.
“We” defend democratic values all over the world. “They” harbor terrorism.
I started noticing this usage of “we” once I immigrated in late 2000. “We were attacked on September 11th”, blared the news headlines in my adoptive country. Yes, I concede, America was attacked. It was a terrible terrible thing. “We must defend ourselves against Pakistani terrorists”, declared my birth country. Yes, I concur, India should defend itself against all terrorists. Preferably using diplomacy rather than violence.
My inability to use “we” is absurd at times.
Me: I went to such-and-such place and did so-and-so.
My mother: You? What was your husband doing?
Me (sheepishly): Yes, well, he was there too.
I can’t defend this behavior, but I honestly don’t mean any offence by this. I couldn’t be happier that my husband and I are part of one unit.
I can, and do, however, defend my choice to avoid identifying with any large collective. Because, you see, I identify with a larger collective. Humanity. We need to fight climate change. We have to co-exist peacefully. We should help those less fortunate than ourselves.
And maybe they are hidden among the stars. An alien intelligence. Maybe we shall meet someday and become part of the same “us”.
We are alone, for now. And yet we are not. For are we not part of the cosmos? Is our collective not just human beings, but all other life-forms on earth; not just animals and plants and microbes, but rocks and clouds; not just the earth, but also the galaxies?
Desiderata: [We are children] of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
[we] have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to [us],
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.