What a day in age we share. Look around us and we see the most amazing time that has ever been known to mankind, yet we are still not at peace. In fact, with so many people bustling around in this world it seems like we are getting farther away from living in harmony with our own selves.
This is not much of a surprise. When you think about it, how could wisdom possibly keep up with the rate of change with which we live? The world’s population has grown by seventy percent since I was born, and that was only three and a half decades ago.
This might not be an alarming number if you’re looking at a town of three thousand people, or even a city of a million – one million to almost two million is a big jump, but manageable by a group of people that are constantly building, managing resources, enforcing policies, and just generally taking care of each other.
But this is a jump from four and a half billion people to over seven and a half billion in a few decades, and spread out over our entire globe. For a species that existed for its vast majority in the millions or less, how could we possibly hope to have this exponential explosion go smoothly?
Our huge jump in population is thanks to a number of factors. The biggest of these is that human beings are incredibly adaptable. We can, and do, live in almost any part of the world. Climate, conditions, and available resources are not enough to stop us from taking root no matter how insane it may seem.
Another is our development and advancement of agriculture. We have been farming for a long time, but the last five hundred years has shown a particularly high level of success with producing food for a vast population that would otherwise be unsustainable.
And, more recently, as medical knowledge has grown, our life expectancy and birth survival rate have both been bumped up a fair number of notches, especially in the first world. Not only can we repair damaged bodies on a near-miraculous level, we also learned about the importance of hygiene and sterilization to prevent the onset of illness in the first place.
While this massive number of fellow human beings offers us an opportunity to work as a unified super organism, instead we operate something more akin to a body plagued with illnesses. When we get sick our energy level drops and we become decreasingly useful as we grow increasingly ill.
A sick body is busy at work to rid itself of foreign invaders and requires as much care and rest as possible. As the immune system ramps itself up, the body will respond in any number of ways depending on what plagues us.
If we have a sinus cold, for example, we produce unbelievable amounts of mucus from any functional opening on our head that makes life pretty miserable. While annoying, this is to help protect from invasion and eject as much of the unwelcomes as possible.
After some time and a little good fortune, we will once again return to our old selves and swear up and down never to take our sickness-free bodies for granted.
This gratitude for wellness will last for at least one half day – until we go back to our old habits of only seeing what’s wrong, of course.
And so, the super organism we are, we have much of the same going on. There are parts of our global culture that are less balanced than others and we do what we can to restore and maintain the balance.
People from far off murderously invading our country? Kill them right back! Protect the homeland and extinguish the destructive new presence as quickly as possible to maintain control of our home and keep our civilians from suffering the wrath of an unwelcome outsider.
Undesirable as this is, it has been necessary through the years to keep from any one culture getting too greedy and trying to take over the planet. So many through history have started from a well-intentioned ideal of a strong and beautiful society and all too quickly turned into conquerors that insisted they knew what was best for everybody. As they grew, so did their ambition.
After all, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
That piece of wisdom may be a little paranoid, but while it may not cover all scenarios it has been true with enough tragic consequences to merit some reflection.
But therein lies the problem I’m discussing today: the divide between those of us that are familiar and accepted as safe, and those of us that fall outside of that category.
Of course in the case of an army attempting to conquer your land it’s not the right time to expose yourself and proclaim that “we are all family! Let us not engage in fisticuffs!” I’m pretty confident that’s not going to open the door to everyone sorting out their differences over tea.
But within that situation there is something important to be understood: while it’s a terrifying situation of us versus them, we are only the “us” to… us. The attackers are usually not brutes that are rolling in over your border because they are terrible and have nothing else to do, it takes a particularly strong motivation to lay your life on the line to attack somebody.
Each side has its story and we are all much more alike than such a dire situation might suggest. And this principle of common bonds boils down to much simpler situations as well.
Human beings thrive on conflict – it is through our own natural duality that our fire of growth and development is built. A horrific situation such as an invasion has people of a common area band together pretty quickly. Now that it’s us versus them, us is pretty easy to identify.
But in peacetime that conflict tends to manifest itself in different ways. Look at how polarized our culture is growing now in North America – it’s easy to see in the political divide in the USA. Trump and anti-Trump are more opposed to each other than any other presidential term than I can remember.
This type of divide extends beyond the political realm which can easily be seen in the growing tension between the extreme leftists and, well, those that do not share the intense passion they display for their argument.
It’s such a silly hypocrisy – there is a group of people that are dedicated to egalitarianism and rights, but they are so far into the rabbit hole that they seem blind to the fact that over-dedication to a cause tends to make you into the monster you have sworn to defeat.
It’s extremely easy to find examples of this on YouTube – all kinds of interviews and conversations that have someone stomping all over someone else’s freedom in what they claim is an attempt to fight for freedom. People that become about as offensive as you can imagine while accusing their oppressor of being offensive.
For as long as I can remember I have believed that the most important, and possibly the only truly worthy battle, is that of the demons within our own self. My execution of this belief is still far from perfect but it gives me a high bar for which to aim with my behaviour; an ideal for which I can reach while perpetually tuning and re-calibrating my approach.
But when we fail to look at ourselves first it is a very seductive situation to sink into the cause of repairing what seems to be a broken world around you. When the world seems a terrible place, the sirens on the shoals of fairness are intoxicating in their pull towards the merciless rocks of social justice.
The world may seem an unfair place… that’s only because it absolutely is. Nature is a cruel mistress and we are all products of that nature. Everything and everyone is subject to the test of time, and most of our results turn out to be a test of our patience.
While those of us that are eager to drive towards and ideal society fight for what they believe to be an attainable end they burn bridges and destroy people in the process. And, as it turns out, there is no ideal end – there is no perfect result. Our perfection is found in our imperfections.
In this fast-paced world with a growing fire of us versus them, it seems that fire burns so bright as to hide the truth that there is no them: it’s only us. Unlike those times when we have an illness and our body works to destroy and reject an invader, there is no invader… only other human beings.
Every single person on this planet is in this soup together. Everybody you’ve ever known has something they love, something they fear, strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and a limited time in which we try to understand it all.
Everybody laughs, everybody cries, everybody makes love, everybody goes to the bathroom. None of us can live outside of these bounds. We cannot break the laws of nature, only break ourselves over them. There is no horrific master that wields their power from a stoop of invincibility, only those that use their toxic state as a shield to keep others at a distance, and keep themselves from looking in.
Hate has never made a positive difference, and yet it is brandished as if it will be our savior from oppression. It is swung around like a flamethrower with hearts painted on it. “No no, I promise you, I’m fighting for good! Those that catch fire deserve to burn!”
If she floats, she must be a witch and should surely die.
There are a privileged few of us that have had a unique view of our community as a whole – those adventurers that have left the planet in a little tin can and had a view of everybody and everything they know all together on one little blue marble.
It was Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell that spoke of the unifying perspective that comes with such an experience: “from out there on the Moon, international politics looks so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’”
It’s no different for us no matter the size of the group. While we shouldn’t be expected to adopt others’ views, or even like other people, tolerance of anything that doesn’t cause harm to others, and striving to understand anything that does, weaves a deeper connection between us that can dissolve the wall between “us” and “them.”
The bright side to all of this is that the growing polarization is creating a stronger drive in those that truly do embody the principles of acceptance. The louder the voices that cry out against foul play, the more the patient at heart come out to listen to them without judgment.
It’s not easy to see since the messiest parts of things always make the front page first, but there is an incredible power in those that seek to understand.
This can be seen beyond the constructs of human relationships – we are waking up more every day to the fact that we are an inseparable part of the global ecosystem and that the qualities of joy, compassion, and every other fundamental quality of life under the rainbow can be found in spades across the animal kingdom as well. Even between humans and the quadrupedal inhabitants of nature, there is still no “them”…. it is all “us.”
We came from the animal kingdom, and despite what may look like our rise above it, we will always be a part of it. Mankind is learning this with increasing awareness, awkward as that growth may be.
Of course we may wipe ourselves out during this learning process, but with great risk comes great reward. I have faith in our capabilities and our direction, even if we are taking a very bumpy road to greatness.
So fret not – we’re all in this together and I have your back whether you have mine or not. After all, even if we don’t get along while our hearts are still beating, we can enjoy the silence of eternity together once we’re six feet under.
None of us make it out alive, and it’s that finite time we have that makes it all worthwhile.