Even those less concerned with a universal connection create their own earthly ties through affiliation groups like places of employment, places of worship, clubs, town boards, or sports teams. Some are exclusive. Some have relatively low barriers of entry. Some are practically unknown to everyone outside their selective enclaves. All serve the same purpose, placing us within a shared and meaningful social context, providing us with a very real sense and practice of belonging to a larger community. In order to belong, we pledge our cooperation, obedience and enforcement of those guidelines.
And we actively seek out opportunities to conform, to be part of something larger than ourselves. We go on the job hunt – not just to bring in a paycheck, but to belong to a group which will make us part of a larger team of interconnected individuals. When we’re on the team, we bond with each other over shared experiences – project dramas, interpersonal conflicts, television shows, vacation adventures, and other aspects of our lives. In our neighborhoods, we may have less regular contact with each other on a daily basis, but we still need to how we “fit” with each other. Even if the weather’s bad, we cross the street to introduce ourselves to the new neighbors, eager to know how much we have in common with them, as well as where our lives might intersect with them in an ongoing manner. Do we share the experience of raising kids? Do we worship the same God? Do we follow the same religious guidelines? Will our pets get along? When we don’t have those things in common, it gets awkward. But we’re still compelled to ask, to inquire, to search out the ways we share connections.
The ties that bind us to one another are indeed blessed. And when they’re missing, we feel pain. We suffer when we’re excluded, and we even suffer on some level when we exclude others. Connections help us define ourselves, understand ourselves, find our place in the world. And when those are missing, we love an important part of our identities.
So, why are we so invested in our schisms? Why are we so intent on pushing others away, when it’s clear that we crave community? At this time in history, when our complex issues cannot possibly be solved by individuals alone, and it’s clear we need new thinking to engage effectively with our new world, why are we so wedded to the practice of pushing other people away? Why are so determined to define others as… Other… and shut them out in the process?
Whether we agree that separation is an illusion or not, most of us can agree that it doesn’t help us solve our common problems. Plastic, air pollution, injustice, and socio-cultural warfare didn’t happen by themselves. We’ve all contributed to them. And we need to undo them together. But at a time when we need more than ever to come together, we’re more separate than ever. Suspended in a mixture of fear, distrust, existential crisis, and an urgent need to act, we know we need to move forward.