It is often hard to be a person on the planet Earth. It can be scary, overwhelming, fraught with obstacles, and most of all, inescapably lonely. We are, after all, alone in our minds, our bodies, and our selves. I think most all of the stuff we do as people – creating, building, loving, consuming and communicating is meant, at the most basic level, to help us forget or at least put a band aid on the ache of that loneliness.
That is one reason we band together in tribes of similarity and often poke fun (or worse) at those who are other. Race, nationality, politics, religion, non religion, gay, straight, gender, geography. We work so hard to escape the singularity and loneliness of existence by being a part of something bigger. Today this country is as divided as I ever thought I’d see it. After 2000, 2001, and then 2004 I didn’t think it could get worse, but it feels like it is. Do you remember the horror, the rage, the fear? I think back on it a lot these days. I saw grown men on all sides of the political spectrum weep and rage. I watched people of all flavors do both beautiful and horrible things. Just like now.
I am as sad as I am hopeful. We are faced with terrific challenges today. Yet we cling so tightly to the myths that separate us instead of reaching for the meanings that could unite us. I, like everyone, often take refuge in the ability to reach out to those who think as I think, or who recognize me as part of their team. “Lifelines in the midst of the madness”, I say to myself, so thankful I have the opportunity. It might be friends, family, colleagues, or acquaintances I meet online, might be a chance encounter and conversation that makes my day. These days we have tools to help us seek out other people like us, whatever us might mean. It can be easy to find someone to answer our need to not be alone, our need to be understood.
One danger is that all this connectivity within easy reach can reinforce the tribes of sameness we cling to so tightly. It often makes us more rigid instead of less, and less tolerant instead of more. I think we need so much to belong, to understand and be understood, to find connection and meaning that takes away the ache of loneliness, that in our searching and our finding we forget that everyone else is doing it too. Thus ,those who are not part of our tribe become less human. It reduces us, collectively, as people, and it is dangerous.
It is so common, and it scares me. I’m trying to fight it within myself, trying to see the humanity within the folks that frighten and enrage me. Its not easy. I have to leave the comfort zone of my tribe, and work to see something that humanizes the other. It is hard to fight the “us vs. them” mentality that seems so central to any discussion today. It becomes easier when one practices seeing it as an artificial divide, a human construction.
That practice requires fearlessness. If one accepts the premise that what divides us is not a given, but our own creation forged from our own fears and vulnerabilities, then so are the group identities that give us comfort and meaning. Thus, we find our selves truly alone, which is the uncomfortable position that contributed to the mess in the first place. Hopefully, though, the practice and effort will yield a healthier and more realistic perspective, and most importantly, the ability to reach out with compassion and strength, instead of lashing out and manufacturing distance from fear.
Are you out there, can you hear this,
Jimmy Olsen, Johnny Memphis
I was out here listening all the time,
And though the static walls surround me
You were out there, and you found me,
I was out here listening all the time
……Are You Out There, Dar Williams