Unity among people is a concept that many people have been promoting for a long time, perhaps even as long as humans have existed, but that unity means different things to different people.

An artistic representation of unityMany of us don’t live in a way that consciously and actively promotes unity among people. Examples of division can be seen, heard and found on a daily basis all over the world. Why would people cause division instead of promoting unity? Are they just stupid, bad people?

Well, unity and division go hand in hand. Division causes sub-groups of unity. What do I mean? Let’s start with an example.

Let’s say that you politically align yourself to the left. This automatically gives you a kind of unity among all of those on the left, those that share your views and priorities, yet importantly, divided from the right, who have their own unity against the left.

What about those on the left that disagree with other people on the left? From this, you get more division and another sub-group of a unity of those that support you and share your views.

This division and unity, this us vs them mentality not only leads to groups of unity, divided by difference, but it has implications in our personal lives. It has implications for our thoughts, for our votes, our actions, judgements and biases.

In our lives, we love giving things and people labels, whatever label we give to someone or to a group of people allows us to identify the differences between them and us. It allows us to segregate people and groups in order for us to use their differences against them.

I can’t really mention segregation without mentioning race, or more accurately, differences in melanin. For a long time, those with less melanin segregated those with more melanin, as less than human, as slaves. When slavery was abolished this anti-melanin mentality quietened, but never entirely disappeared.

That is of course only one large example of segregation.

It’s the largest of all divisions that cause the largest biases and the largest groups united by those biases.

A tug-of-war representing united yet opposing groups

Some of us may be subconsciously motivated to join a group, against others, to gain some unity, support and friends even more than any motivation against the other group.

Once united in a group, divided in some way from another group, it’s hard to get out of. We risk losing that unity, losing our friends and family. We don’t like losing these things, and so even on a subconscious level, we fight to protect it, we justify things to ourselves and we reject things that say we’re wrong.

When we learn of information that is contradictory to something that we believe, this gives us cognitive dissonance. This is a stress caused by 2 conflicting thoughts.

To get away from this dissonance we tend to do one of two things. Perhaps most commonly, reject the new information. Rejecting information is easy, it allows us to continue as we were and to believe things that make us feel better, regardless of the truth.

The alternative is to accept the new information and to dismiss or change the old. This is less common because of all of the risk, because of the conflict it may cause, because of the loss of friends, and because you were wrong. No one likes being wrong and no one likes to admit it either, even to ourselves.

Not only do our thoughts reinforce themselves over time, but other people reinforce them too, in what some call an echo-chamber. Of course, all of us can justify our beliefs and biases to ourselves, even if we can’t justify it to another.

At times we may create subconscious rules or generalisations about whole groups of people from one or a small number of experiences or people. These people and experiences are often used to justify beliefs, biases and prejudices to ourselves and others. We can, however, think about how many people we’ve based these generalisations on, and how many people that generalisation is about. For example, if we meet a couple of people from another country and have a bad experience with them, perhaps they were rude, we might create a mental rule that everyone from that country is rude. This is creating a rule, a rule extremely likely to be false, based on a couple of people and a single experience, yet applying that rule mentally to millions of others. The rule may not only apply to the people of that country, but perhaps that whole region of the world, the language they speak, or perhaps even all foreign people.

We ignore the parts of people that are the same or similar, which is the vast majority because our brains are wired to find and follow patterns and to notice things that are different or outside of those patterns. This makes us naturally suspicious of things that are different or unknown and rapidly create rules and generalisations about things. This has helped us to survive as a species, but it also makes us good at finding differences among ourselves, however small, and good at creating generalisations about groups of people from very few experiences.

We can’t help but to categorise, we may not be able to remain entirely objective, we can’t simply go against our nature.

What we can do is question ourselves honestly. We can ask ourselves what our biases, prejudices, likes, dislikes and labels are. We can challenge our own justifications to see if they truly make sense if they are logical or reasonable or justified by a bias or prejudice.

We should remember that those around us affect the way we think and the things we do, but this also applies to the media, to advertising, to everything we see, hear, read and learn. Even this.

There are many divisions among people, that divide people, that cause conflict, that impose rules, that take away the freedoms of others.

It’s commonly considered good advice to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals, but this can only strengthen the way we already are, restricting our educational and personal development.

A few things that divide us; gender, sexuality, skin colour, hair colour, height, education, language, nationality, religion, wealth, disability, sports teams etc… The list is endless. Even labels like millennial and young are used today to segregate and blame large groups or to make biased assumptions about people in those groups.

Even when we give ourselves labels, if we’re not being down on ourselves, the labels tend to somehow represent how we are different and better than those without that label.

Do you justify your biases to be a part of a unity?