Sometimes this might be useful, as when we find ourselves in a crowd of people who are about to do something we don’t believe is right. We articulate our difference and draw ourselves away.
But supposing we do this when there is no actual value-driven difference?
When I was a college student I found myself sitting on a hillside in Hawkshead, England, explaining to an interested Manchester University professor over our lunch sandwiches how I had managed my time the year before when I had worked four hours a day at a newspaper as a proofreader, attended classes for my master’s program, and taught a freshman English class at the university as well. She seemed fascinated by the view into the life of an American student who had little money but a lot of drive, and I felt she was cheering me on.
However, another person was listening that day, a young man attending an Oxford college working toward the D. Phil. degree. He spent the next week sneering at me every chance he had, making sure I knew that in his world a working student was definitely second class. I had sort of liked him at first, so that made his treatment hurt. After a few days we were in another town on an excursion, and I was sitting on a wall looking down at the Derwent river rushing beneath me. A Belgian student joined me, and she made a quick observation about the treatment I had been getting from Mr Oxford. She let me know that I had been taking him entirely too seriously, that I needed to laugh at such an antiquated attitude.
Our equality as college students at an academic conference had led him into an archaic, juvenile, and baseless fear of a working student, and his silly fear further led him into language creating a divide that he was desperate to perpetuate, lest he be categorized with a group he did not want to be part of.
In the Book of Mormon (the book, not the musical), a society of true equality among all people of the time is described in the book of 4th Nephi: “there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free . . . .” This utopia is further described this way:
And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
These people did away with all labels among them that had previously divided them. It worked for several hundred years, and then things began to fall apart again. It’s usually envy and pride that get the divisions started. We act upon our fears of not being “good enough” and therefore we have to figure out a way to set ourselves apart, to set ourselves above the ones we fear.
The answer is to do away with the “-ites”—stop labeling each other at all. As I said to my friend on the phone, “We could all become un-ites, right?”
She pointed out the obvious. “That would make us unite, you know.”
Let’s do that!