When we were very young, we began sorting objects by colour or size or shape. We put the green buttons in one bowl, the blue buttons in another. The teachers who watched us noticed how well we were doing, understanding that sorting is an important part of child development.
We couldn’t have been much older when we began sorting each other by colour or size or shape or gender.
Somewhere along the way, other categories emerged. No one explicitly told us to, but we knew to sort each other by wealth, religion, popularity, athletic ability, and intelligence.
If we ever wondered as we grew up whether we would always sort and be sorted, we recognize as adults, that the answer is yes. Or at least, we live as if the answer is yes.
I recently heard a sermon that reminded us that “othering” is the first act of violence. When we continue to insist that people who are sorted differently are “other” than us, it becomes easier to exclude them, judge them, harm them.
The more categories we sort each other into, the less common ground we recognize. Before sorting each other, we were “us.” After sorting, we become “us and them,” or even “me and them.” No longer do we recognize how we are alike; instead we recognize only our differences, and they become divisions between us.
The truth is that we are different—we come in different colours, shapes, sizes, ethnicities, beliefs, genders, and ages.
Will we allow those things to divide us and keep us from loving our neighbours? Or will we allow them to enhance our world?
The truth is also that we are the same. We share the fundamental dignity of our humanity with all of its beauty, diversity, and struggle.
You and I, no matter our differences, begin in a place of likeness.
But we categorize and label, until we believe those labels are the sum of our identities.
Do we lose a bit of our shared humanity if we fail to recognize it in each other?
When we sorted those buttons into bowls with our tiny fingers, we continued to see their colours. We delighted in dumping each colour back into the bigger bowl, feeling their different textures as we mixed them all together. Their colours didn’t fade or disappear; each added to the beauty of the whole.
We remember how to sort. But when did we forget how to mix?