- Even if it is a natural human instinct to categorise people into binary types, society must resist this ‘with us or against us’ mentality if it is not to lose the richness of the complex real world
Hong Kong is so polarised these days.
You may feel you are neutral, but someone will always try to fit you into a side. I am certain that, right now, you’ll be wondering which camp I belong to – pro-government or pro-protesters. Once you decide I am one or the other, your preconceived opinions of my “camp” will be activated.
If I am not on your side, you may decide to stop reading.
We cannot help but put people into categories. It is basic human nature to slot people into binary types. Anthropologists think that it is part of our survival instinct. The need to quickly distinguish between friend or foe was crucial when we were hunter-gatherers or engaged in warfare.
But to be civilised is also to be able to resist primaeval urges. It is necessary to be aware of our natural human instincts and sometimes purposely go against them to save ourselves. This is what separates humans from animals.
Humans have made many kinds of “unnatural” behaviour possible. Is it natural to eat cooked food? Is it natural to shave? Is it natural to wear clothes? Is it natural to fly in an aircraft?
To be civilised is to be unnatural. To be able to coexist, we must behave unnaturally by resisting the urge to put each other into one compartment or another.
Just because someone is not “with us”, it doesn’t always mean that they are against us. For example, you may support the Hong Kong police, yet be against their use of rubber bullets.
We already identify one another by gender, race, age group, sexual orientation and so on; there are infinite permutations. We are all unique with our own set of preferences. We should celebrate our diversity and resist being homogenised.
The reason why a diverse world is stronger than a polarised one is because only in a diverse world can opposing forces work together to form things that are greater than the sum of their parts. That is what makes Hong Kong great. One plus one is really greater than two when two elements that seemingly conflict with each other can align to become a positive force.
Within oneself, resolving contradictory emotions can produce positive results. For example, you may not agree with a gay lifestyle, but if you do not allow that opinion to affect your judgment of the music of gay musicians, you will gain a whole new world of musical experience to which you would otherwise have no access.
Thanks to LGBTQ advocates who have succeeded in drawing global attention to the issue, it is now widely accepted that being gay is a sexual orientation and independent of abilities or other human qualities.
By the same logic, a critic of US President Donald Trump would willingly stay in a Trump hotel if the prices and amenities were acceptable.
However, politics is a highly charged subject these days. Once you put a label on a person whose political stance is different to yours, you automatically assign other characteristics to them that are not necessarily true or proven. You may boycott their business and advocate others to do so, too.
I would say the inability to separate unrelated matters such as the person from the business, the gender from the music, the race from the food, etc, is the reason our society is so divided.
To be civilised is to be able to separate and compartmentalise our feelings. Not doing so, we will perpetuate hostility and will never achieve cooperation between people of differing opinions.
When it comes to politics, we now have zero tolerance for differing opinions.
In Hong Kong now, is it possible to be pro-government and pro-reform? Is it possible to be a protester and a supporter of the police? Is it possible to be anti-protester and a pro-democracy advocate? The answer is yes.
Nevertheless, the forces of our divided society are forcing us to choose only one of two choices: the extreme positions of black or white.
Not just society, but our physical make-up, too. Dopamine is the natural chemical released from our brains when we return to something we like, equivalent to a sugary reward. That is what makes it hard for us to see or listen to things we do not like.
Yet, we lose out if we see only binary opposites in a complex world. When interacting with others, we would easily bond because of commonalities, but we could also learn from our differences.
In my most recent monthly meeting with my editor, the topic of conversation inevitably turned to what’s been happening on the streets of Hong Kong, I soon realised that my political opinions were diagonally opposed to his. I dreaded where the conversation could lead. I have seen how such situations can break up friendships and families.
Surprisingly, we were able to have a most enjoyable and lively debate. We left the meeting with greater mutual respect, without compromising our core principles, albeit with some revisions. We learned from each other by seeing the issue from a different perspective. It was so refreshing.
It is crucial that we understand and appreciate one another’s differences rather than trying to extinguish them.
For it is really diversity that gives our world a kaleidoscope of colours.
Written by Douglas Young is co-founder of the Hong Kong lifestyle brand G.O.D.
#RobertReview: 10 | 10
The inability to differentiate from leaves (thousands of isolated examples of violence by both HK Police and Protesters) and the root causes (China not fulfilling its promise of ‘one country two systems’ autonomy); the violence from the provocation – leads to polarization. Value diversity.
Bridging the Black Shirts & White Shirts, and the Yellow Side (Pro-Democracy) & Blue Side (Pro-China) that Polarizes the Hong Kong society – by Valuing DIVERSITY.