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Home » The Most Dangerous Four-Letter Word: Dick Simon at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

The Most Dangerous Four-Letter Word: Dick Simon at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)


I come from a Jewish tradition, the same one as Bernie Madoff, the worst financial criminal in history. So perhaps all Jewish transactions, including mine, need to undergo some extra scrutiny.

My Catholic wife seems OK, but we all know about the horrors of priests and pedophilia. So maybe all Catholics, including Patty, need to undergo some psychological testing. Now my Italian relatives, we know that they must be tied into the mafia. We’ve all seen The Godfather and The Sopranos, so we really need to be keeping an eye on them. THEM. the most dangerous four-letter word in the English language.

This word is used to isolate, to marginalize, to insult. This word has been responsible for the suffering and death of millions, millions of people. THEM is an obscene word. I’m an entrepreneur, passionate photographer, and have spent much of the last 12 years traveling in conflict regions, places like North Korea, Syria, Iran, getting people to communicate, who otherwise would do anything to avoid each other. Working in confidential small groups with hundreds of top business and government leaders, trying to break down stereotypes, attack this four-letter word, I’ve learned that THEMification, a new word now, THEMification, is often the root of the problems we deal with, both personally and geopolitically.

We all know examples of the horrors that arise from THEMification. Just a few of them: the Nazi Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia and the Killing Fields, the Balkans, Syria today. And it’s not just what ‘they’ do to ‘them’, distant and far away. In America, ‘we’ annihilated Native Americans as our Manifest Destiny, interned Japanese-Americans, and today, randomly stop and frisk blacks, and profile Arabs and Muslims. We all agree security is absolutely essential, no question about that.

But unfortunately, it’s also sometimes used to rationalize some of these behaviors. And while we’re getting better, we still look at someone who seems different and instantly label as ‘them.’ So why do we do this? Why do we see others through this lens of ‘them’? Historically, ‘them’ helped to differentiate families, tribes, for protection, bonding, to secure scarce resources. Today though, we continue to use ‘them’ to identify with our group, excluding others. But why? An important reason is that the world is overwhelming, full of confusing, complicated information.

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