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Winter 2013

Book: Us Plus Them

Us Plus ThemDiversity — is it a blessing or a curse? Linked with a long history of religious and ethnic intolerance, racial and social inequality, and severe national tensions, diversity has undoubtedly bred hatred, prejudice, discrimination, and violence in some people over the course of history, says Senior Lecturer Todd Pittinsky in his new book, Us Plus Them. However, Pittinsky argues that this negativity is only one side of the story. Whereas scholars, social scientists, policymakers, and even the media often focus on difference being a catalyst for hate and anger, Pittinsky points out that there is a positive dimension as well: It is merely a matter of shifting our mindset from "us-versus-them" to "us-plus-them."

Over seven chapters, Pittinsky does this, moving away from the negativity and focusing on "allophilia," a term he coined to refer to "the positive reaction to difference." Allophilia, an unaddressed topic in social science literature, he says, describes the phenomenon in which people come together in their differences and actually find them to be "interesting, comfortable, or admirable." Tapping into a positive us-plus-them approach not only allows two groups to coexist, Pittinsky says, but it actually makes them happy that they are together.

Related article iconIn order to harness the possibilities of allophilia, Pittinsky turns to leaders of all kinds and asks the question: "What if ordinary leaders at all levels … considered it their job to nurture allophilia and build on it?" Using this as a jumping-off point, the book moves to start this conversation, not only addressing the current lack of positive leadership, but also presenting ideas for how leaders could make changes and encourage the positive dimensions of intergroup relations. For Pittinsky, it is not the differences between two groups that create divisions, but merely the inability to celebrate them and recognize the positive power they can hold. Thus, moving forward is not about "seeing past differences," but instead it is about celebrating these differences and recognizing the fact that groups can benefit tremendously from having different backgrounds, skills, talents, opinions, and points of view.