Add a place at the table

How do I resist the temptation to see the world through the lens of “us vs. them”?

Photo by melitas |

4 min read

Resisting a temptation is a way to grow in one’s capacity to be open to others. St. James comments about resisting temptation this way: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas 4:7). When we exert an effort to avoid something that may be harmful to us, we are already on the path to a new way of living. It is worth the challenge.

The world around us now seems to be in a constant state of division. There is hardly an area of thought or human experience that has not been separated into two ways of thinking. “Mine vs. yours” and “us vs. them” is in the very air we breathe. How can we resist taking sides in this divide?      

The first thing to realize is that, with the help of God’s grace and our freedom to make choices, we do have the power to overcome this temptation. But if we lose our sense of self and conclude that we cannot overcome it, then we are forced to “choose a side” and we move further away from the path to unity. The world around us is no longer seen as a place where unity is possible.

The heart of the Focolare spirituality is a recognition that all are called to be one. “We” and “they”—whoever “we” or “they” may be—are always “candidates for unity.” The value of this way of seeing the world cannot be stressed enough. The effort to change ourselves and how we see things is not an easy task. But step by step and choice by choice it can be done.

Many times, we just need to find a way to breathe that moves past the sense of division. All around us there are signs that the world belongs to everyone. The beauty of a sunrise or sunset, the sound of falling rain, the experience of suffering when someone we love is in pain—all these are common experiences that unite us.

The way to find a path to unity does not really depend on overcoming a divide. Rather, it requires an act of the will, a choice on my part or on our part to see others as part of us.

At the present time, nations and cultures are experiencing great divisions, even war. It is easy to see others who are different from us through a lens of division. But we can see them instead as members of families, people who are concerned for their children and who have parents and loved ones who belong to them and care for them as well.

When you see an enemy, look again. You will see someone in need of love. If you do not feel that love, ask God to open your heart to allow the love that is all around us in beauty to flow through you to the other. Look at the person or persons who seem to be on “the other side” and seek a way to reach out.

A driver who is frustrated in traffic makes a choice to imagine that all the drivers in the other cars are her friends and family rather than strangers. This helps the driver not to see the other cars or drivers as enemies who are working against her.

A beggar comes into a shop, and everyone stops what they are doing, looking at him with disdain. A small child walks up to the man and offers him her ice cream cone. Everyone begins to see the man differently. Sometimes, we just need to look at another with the eyes of a child.

When I can acknowledge my first response, my limitations and my feelings of separation from the other, I am free to choose to love, to look again with the heart of unity, praying and acting upon the prayer of Jesus “may all be one.”

At times, to be honest, if I do not start with the idea of “we,” I can be caught in a cycle of self-reference that is a symptom of pride, valuing my own way of seeing more than others’.

The first step is to move from “I” and “me” to “we” and “us.” In other words, I choose not to remain isolated, but to stand in a wider circle that includes a neighbor. The move beyond “us” and “them” then becomes not so much an overcoming of a division or climbing over a wall built by one side or the other. It becomes the widening of a circle.

Italians have a wonderful saying: aggiungi un posto a tavola (“add a place at the table”). It is also a popular song and a musical show.

The first verse of the song by Johnny Dorelli offers good advice that can help to answer the question of how to overcome division: “Add a space at the table, since there’s one more friend. If you move your chair a little, you will still be comfortable. Friends are for this purpose: to be company. Smile at the new guest, don’t make him go away.”

We can all smile at the new person who stands before us. Then our company and our circle of friends will grow.


Join the conversation. Send your thoughts to the editor Jon Sweeney.

Fr. Timothy Hayes, a pastor of the Diocese of Columbus, offers answers on faith questions together with a group of priests who share the spirituality of unity.