If You Were Taught What They Were Taught…

Isolated Yurts

“If you grew up where they grew up, and you were taught what they were taught, you would believe what they believe” – Anon(1)

I’ve used this quote before. Back then I said “If more people understood and accepted that, fewer people would die before their time.”

For some reason in recent weeks my thoughts have been returning to that quote.

To me what the quote speaks to is understanding which in turn would breed tolerance.

What it highlights today is what I see as a growing tide of intolerance; an us-versus-them mentality that threatens to break various populations apart – perhaps even violently.

Consider an isolated tribe; a people so removed they’ve never actually encountered “modern” civilization. If you had been born to that tribe you would grow up believing whatever magical thinking they happen to believe. Rituals your modern eyes would see as silly and perhaps morally questionable, would be critically important to your well being as ways to please whatever spirits your isolated-self would believe in.

They key is simply that you would grow up believing these things because you’ll never have been exposed to any credible (to your tribe) alternatives. To put it in a very condescending, and yet accurate, way, your isolated-self wouldn’t know any better.

We are all still tribal, even if we’re not isolated somewhere. We grow up believing whatever magical thinking our tribe believes. We grow up practicing rituals that, to outsiders, would seem silly and perhaps even morally questionable – yet we believe them to be critical to our well-being.

We grow up believing these things because we’ll not have been exposed to credible alternatives – at least nothing our tribe considers credible.

What we fail to realize is that the other tribes we interact with feel exactly the same way about how they were raised, and what they believe. Indeed, if we’d been born in their tribe and raised as their tribe member, we would believe exactly what they believe.

Christian, Muslim. Conservative, Liberal. Any way you want to slice us up, we’re all just tribes of one sort or another. All believing what we believe, and all believing that those other tribes are doing things that are silly, and perhaps even morally questionable.

We remain rooted in our beliefs. We remain rooted that ours is the One True Way, and that all others are, without question, wrong. Unacceptable. Silly. Morally questionable, or worse: morally objectionable and worthy of eradication.

Until we realize we’re not the enlightened owners of The Truth…

Until we realize there may, in fact, be more than one truth…

Until we realize that those who hold different beliefs than our own are no less intelligent and deserving of respect as we are…

Until we accept true tolerance of those unlike ourselves….

Until we realize that one of us could just as easily be one of them but for a quirk of where we were born and what we were taught…

We’ll all just be squabbling tribes.

In recent months it feels like we’ve regressed further into tribal mentality and a tribal way of thinking.


(1) I tried looking for a source to this quote and came up with three possibilities: anonymous (the one I went with), Abraham Lincoln (because, you know, you can always trust Lincoln quotes you find on the internet), or myself – as my prior post came up as #2 in the search results. I know I didn’t originate it. As for Abe, who knows? I suspect it’s more of a truism than a quote so left it to our anonymous friend.