The Other: 2 Ways to Deal with Humans Being Rotten to The Other

Madelaine Weiss
4 min readJun 25, 2022

Not everyone is as rotten as everyone else to the ‘Other’ (people they view as outside of their group). But science says some measure of it is baked into our DNA and that hurting the ‘other’ might actually feel good.

According to the researchers out of Virginia Commonwealth University, hurting increases activity in the brain’s reward network, and by extension:

While Chester said it is possible that the brain activity was not reflecting the subjective experience of pleasure, decades of brain research suggests that area’s core functions are reliably reward-linked to the point where the researchers felt comfortable making the inference.

That was hard for me to write. Maybe hard for you to read. But there it is. The question is why.

Table of Contents

The Upside of Group Identity

From an earlier post How Can We Be Prejudiced? How Can We Not?

Social science experts call it Implicit Bias, prejudices that often live beneath our awareness, common to us all in one way or another. Biases based on gender, obesity, sexual preference, political preference, and last but not least…race. People we see as different in an Us versus Them World.

Insider/Outsider distinctions are thought to have emerged from people learning to live in groups. Early humans discovered that groups increased their access to food, water, shelter, protection, sexual opportunities — resources necessary for us, as individuals and as a species, to survive and to thrive.

Humans evolved to huddle with their own, however they define their own, because of the many survival benefits above.

But one need only consider the consequences of our divisions today to know that there is a huge downside to identity grouping as well.

The Downside of Group Identity

Again, from my earlier post:

Group living also made us afraid of outsiders living in other groups. Outsiders could spread disease, and possibly want to kill to steal resources for themselves and their own. The fear would, of course, run in both directions. And, the best detectors of who was in and who was out would be the more likely to survive. So they would live to make more babies likely to be wired, genetically and culturally, just like themselves.

By this reasoning, it is no surprise some measure of prejudice — fear of others not like ourselves — would live in us all.

Just to be clear, I am not a big fan of identity grouping. Seems to me that, in modern times, it is a solution that creates the problem — directly in the way of our seeing ourselves as fellow travelers — no matter our color, ethnicity, sexual and religious preferences, and so on. And yet, many people revel in identity grouping, even cling to it.

I do confess that when I got off the plane in Israel years ago, I had this uncanny feeling that everyone there was my Aunt Molly, Uncle Izzy, or some other member of my family. Everyone I met felt like family even though I had never met any of them before.

So, I get it. And, I still think there is a huge downside of dangerous divisiveness now and going forward, if we don’t do anything about it.

What Way Forward?

Here are 2 ideas for how to deal with this about us:

1.Kick it Upstairs: Some of our biases against others are explicit, some implicit. Either way, our brains have come a long way since our days on The Savannah. Let’s use them.

How about if we take it as a given that biases exist in each of us, look for them, and when we see them give them over to the higher brain to take it from there. (The Power Breathing exercise on my website “Complimentary…” box pulldown is how to kick it upstairs in only 30 seconds.)

Then we won’t hurt anyone against whom we can see we really do not have any legitimate gripe — and we won’t hurt ourselves either by enjoying something most of us know is not good for us to enjoy.

2. Mingle More: Harvard primatologists, studying Bonobos, published a new study suggesting why we get along to the extent that we do.

Bonobos and Chimps both share about 99% of their DNA with humans. Unlike Chimps, however, Bonobos from one ‘neighborhood’ mingle with Bonobos from another:

… four separate groups that routinely crossed paths to interact, groom each other, and share meals…. don’t spend all their time together as part of one large group but are all still part it, maintaining relationships with each other and (most importantly) not battling each other when they meet.

Let’s do that. On purpose. Let’s mix and mingle more outside of our own identity groups. Let’s kick it upstairs to the higher brain, and then consciously befriend more of our ‘neighbors’ on this planet. And then let us know what you find.

Warm wishes,

Madelaine

Photo by Sean Foster on Unsplash

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Madelaine Weiss

Licensed Psychotherapist, Board Certified Executive, Career, Life Coach. LICSW, MBA, BCC