Enemies make the best friends. And I’m not talking about when two people who used to hate each other finally reconcile. That’s nice, too, but it’s not what I mean. Have you ever noticed how mutual dislike of another person - having a mutual enemy - makes it so much easier to connect?
To put it differently: why is it that gossiping, smack-talking, and badmouthing someone is almost always a surefire way to build a better connection with someone? Even if you didn’t really care for that person before, or to be honest, even if you really disliked each other, somehow finding a shared disgust towards someone else brings you together.
HBO sees it ... why don't we?
I was watching a show recently, and this is exactly what happened. You’ll have to excuse the bad language, but it’s hard to get the point across if it’s too censored. This guy and girl meet and go out on kind of a blind date - they talked a bit online, but it’s their first time meeting in person. He’s really attracted to her, but super nervous.
At first, it seems like they have absolutely nothing in common. The waiter asks if they want drinks, and they look at each other uncomfortably and ask for “just water, please.” He’s sipping awkwardly with a straw and starts talking about water … how much he likes the good ol’ H2O, and asking questions like, “At what point does a pond become a lake?” She raises her eyebrows as if to say, “What did I get myself into?!” He starts checking his phone constantly. It’s absolutely painful.
A "scapegoat" is someone that a collective, whether it be a small group or a whole society, can decide to dump all their junk onto. (Click to share on Twitter)
Then all of a sudden, he gets a text from their mutual “friend.” He reads the text, sighs, and mutters to himself, “f***ing pr**k.”
She asks, “What? Who?” He bashfully tells her who it is. She responds, “He’s not just a pr**k. He’s a motherf***ing prick!”
He yells, “Oh my God, yes he SUCKS right?!” So they start laughing and talking crap about this mutual so-called “friend” … then she calls the waiter over and orders a bottle of wine. The chemistry changes immediately. Their date goes extremely well, and they end up going home with each other.
It's our bread and butter ...
Think about it. Billy and Joey might hate each other, but when their freshman class is up against another class on field day, they’re allies against the evil sophomores. But when it’s time for the basketball tournament against the school rival, both classes are all on the same team. And if the two players who hate each other the most from those teams get drafted for all-state, then they have to figure out how to work together and, more often than not, start cheering each other on and become at least casual friends. It’s kind of like bread and butter for cliché Hollywood teen flicks.
It’s so easy to draw lines and define ourselves purely by what we are against rather than what actually holds us together. (Click to share on Twitter)
Republicans and Democrats hate each other, but if the US was invaded by … uhh … let’s pick the least likely opponent … Canada - then they would definitely be working together. And when World War 3 breaks out, you might hate the Russians, but if you’re invading Canada together, then you’re going to be on the same side and might even make a few friends on the frontlines. But when the alien invasion hits … well, you better believe that just being human would put you on the same team, and somehow that has a way of uniting you. At least, it seems to go that way in plenty of post-apocalyptic films.
"Scapegoating" - the way the world works
There’s a name for this: scapegoating. Renowned academic René Girard is famous for his work on scapegoating in human mythology and culture, and he’s the one who got the ball rolling for me five or six years ago. There’s a lot to be said, but to sum it up: a scapegoat is someone that a collective, whether it be a small group or a whole society, can decide to dump all their junk onto. Instead of dealing with real internal issues, relationships, and conflicts, we are able to project all of the garbage onto a third party that we mutually agree to (although it’s usually an unspoken or even unconscious agreement). We toss the baggage on the conveyor belt, and it quietly disappears.
But we forgot that without taking that baggage and unpacking it, it’s bound to come back around that conveyor belt and out the other side. Our “solution” is easy enough: just find another scapegoat. Let the junk keep on going around, generation after generation, until it becomes buried so deep that it takes years of conscious effort and therapy to root it out. Instead, normally you just end up with decades-long rivalries and prejudices.
But it really does do a great job at keeping people together! Still, it begs the question: how united are we really? If you took the scapegoat away, would there be any glue left to hold our friendship together?
Take a moment to think about the people or groups you’ve scapegoated this year, this month, this week … or just today. In a culture as polarized as our own and with social media making scapegoats readily available, it’s so easy to draw lines and define ourselves purely by what we are against rather than what actually holds us together. Don’t you feel some kind of immediate stirring of kinship with someone who happens to share the same political or religious views as you? I suppose that’s to be expected. But do you find yourself having an immediate suspicion, skepticism, or even a bad taste in your mouth when you meet someone and find out they are on the “other side?”
Yeah - that’s how scapegoating works. And it’s a real shame. But to quote the narrator from one of my favorite films totally out of context, “I guess that's the way the whole darned human comedy keeps perpetuatin' itself, down through the generations, westward the wagons, across the sands of time.”
We have to do better, friends.
(and if you didn't understand the image for this post, it's a parody version of the logo from the show "Friends")