The Thing Is, As Reassuring As Unity May Feel…

The thing is, as reassuring as Unity may feel, if we dismiss our tendency to distinguish and differentiate, we are actually cutting ourselves off from an essential part of our human nature. If we judge and reject our impulse to discriminate, we’re actually judging and rejecting a significant, essential part of ourselves which is naturally protective of our closest community members and gives us all a greater sense of safety. Discernment – even discrimination – shelters us from potential interpersonal storms by preventing the storms in the first place. It stems as much from an impulse to befriend, accept, and protect, as the drive to judge and reject. If we discount that distancing impulse, even banish it, we’re approaching our world from a position of inherent fragmentation, with only part of our natures available to address the full range of complex issues that confront us.

So, you see the problem – the very thing which tears us apart, which Others, is actually baked into our impulse to build and sustain community. Yes, the results are frequently excruciating for those labeled “outsiders” by hard-line community definers. Transgender individuals are blocked from safely using bathrooms, and they develop urinary tract infections as a result. Refugees are unwelcome in host countries, their “jungles” of homes destroyed by police forces.

But declaring separation and differentiation as the primary cause for our suffering, puts us in a bind. In fact, it actually pits us against one of our most valuable innate human tendencies. Yes, we need to open our hearts to others. Yes, we need to find common humanity with our brothers and sisters worldwide. We do need to see past our differences and strengthen our bonds with a larger community. But the all-inclusive community many of us seek cannot maintain its integrity – or its safety – unless it’s capable of excluding those who do not or should not belong. And a living community will not survive intact, unless it’s ready and willing to cull the ranks on a regular basis.

So, can we truly afford to reject separation? Can we do without division? It’s such an integral element of our human being-and-doing, if we remove it, we remove part of our most essential selves. Can we hope to even begin to understand our human condition and craft useful solutions to the massive challenges before us, if we’re at war with half of ourselves – a half that’s actually devoted to protecting us as individuals and communities? I don’t believe it’s possible. In fact, insisting that we excise the Othering impulse from our natures actually sets us up for failure. We can no sooner remove that discriminatory, exclusionary side of ourselves, than we can remove the toes from our feet and expect to run fast in a straight line without losing our balance.

And so we find ourselves blocked from Unity, Unification, Communion. Our world is in a terrible state of fragmentation, and it seems impossible to mend the divisions. How can we possibly overcome this shattered state of affairs, to get back to our proverbial Garden of Unity? Surely, the gaps are too wide, the differences too great. We’ve made an unredeemable mess of it all.

But what if Separation weren’t really the problem? What if it didn’t cost our connection, but actually provided us with an opportunity to deepen our ties – and connect us with the very people we think we’re pushing away? What if the “Othering” impulse weren’t actually a “lower” impulse of unenlightened society, but rather a large-scale expression of our most central human impulses, which animates our very neurobiology? What if I told you that Separation and Distance were built-in, cellular-level elements of our organic human lives that actually made true Connection – even all of human life – possible?

Let’s take a closer look at an infinitesimally small, yet omnipresent, example of how distance plays a central role in our every living moment. Let’s dig in and learn how our human systems are fractured, fragmented, chock-full of separation… and yet have the innate, built-in capability – even compulsion – to make good use of that separation and distance.

Let’s take a close look at our microscopic, individual reality and see how we can build the connections of our shared dreams.

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