Where do we start?

namibia dirt road leading to desert
Like so many other people, this morning, I woke up to news that someone had won a hotly contested political contest, while someone else had lost. Actually — full disclosure — I couldn’t get to sleep last night, until I checked the news and found out what the election results were.

Some people are ecstatic about the results, while others are convinced it’s a sign of the Beginning Of The End. Some are chortling about their victory and pointing out how the losers are scrambling to regroup. Others are voicing various degrees of despair on Facebook.

So it goes. It’s never actually been any different than that for me, in the course of my 50-some years on this earth. I’ve been hearing dire warnings about our inevitable plunge into chaos, thanks to certain sorts of political outcomes. The warnings come from both sides, and they’re so similar, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference.

It’s not the ideology and the platforms that seem different to me, rather the dire tone each side adopts to compel their constituency (both current and hoped-for additions), to join their side. Join the fight. Join the battle. Everything is on the line.

Again.

To say I’m battle-weary would be an understatement. It’s not that I don’t agree that we’re in a dire situation. I believe we are. I mean, look around — war and disease and pestilence are so common, they’re “old news”. The United States seems in a state of perpetual cultural warfare, with all sides utterly unmoved by the criticisms and complaints of everyone else. People seem to have dug in, and exit polls show how sharp the voting divides are, across race and gender. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of our socio-cultural deep freeze that seems to have completely immobilized us — like a tourist from Peoria frozen with fear as a charging hippopotamus bears down on them. (And yes, hippos are the most human-dangerous land animal in Africa.)

Good grief.

While it is encouraging to see some election results which lean in my preferred direction, the whole process sort of depresses me. Even if “my side” does win, as a whole community we still lose something. Every time we splinter into factions and go at each other over ideology or agenda, we pay a price. Some days, it feels like the only one fretting over the cost, is me.

But I know I’m not the only one. There are plenty of people out there who are distressed by the ever-deepening chasms between various segments of our society. Rich vs. poor. Haves vs. have-nots. Whites vs. … er… everybody else. Cities vs. rural areas. Men vs. women. Powerful vs. vulnerable. At every single turn, it seems like we’re splintered along identity lines. And where identity isn’t clearly marked, people seek to create new categories that set them apart.

All this separation. Sigh.

And yet… Is the real problem separation? I’m not so sure. Indeed, I think the real issue is that we don’t really know how to work effectively with separation. We tend to see it as a barrier, and little else. Of course, separation divides us. That’s the point. That’s why we turn to it — specifically because it divides us, it separates us out. And there are a bunch of advantages to that, which I discuss in Beloved Distance. A sense of belonging. A sense of safety. Knowing whom to trust. Knowing whom to avoid. Separation is one of our most valuable tools, and yet it seems to be wreaking havoc with our world.

Seems.

And yet, I have to ask — Isn’t there more to the story than just division? Isn’t there more to our experience than schism? Might our separation actually offer us something we need, both in terms of division and connection? Are we missing something?

I think, yes.

I think we’re missing a lot.

And because of that, we’re losing out on clues about how we can move forward.

By having this one-sided view of things, and not understanding — really understanding — what’s at work in our world, as well as deep within us, we’re passing up an amazing opportunity to step forward and head down a path that may not be all that clear and well-marked, but is still a path forward.

We don’t even have to know exactly what’s to come, or exactly how we’re going to get there. We just need to know that the path exists, and that we have the in-born capacity to really make the most of that path.

You can see current events as a scourge or a gift. I choose to see it as both. And I’m determined to find out how we can make the most of the whole range of these experiences we’re having. I have some ideas about how we can do that.

Watch this space. More to come.

 

Everybody wants to connect

woman at festival with crowd behind her

And rightly so. Being with others makes us feel safe, secure. Community anchors us in the midst of a confusing and overwhelming world. Having others around us, orients us to what matters to them, and what matters to us. And if we’re paying attention, we can usually learn something new from people we talk to.

Even strangers.

Especially strangers.

I have to say, some of the best discussions I’ve had with people have been with people I’ve never met before. I find it easier to talk to them, than a lot of other people, at times. There’s no emotional baggage, there’s no interpersonal history to contend with, there’s just two people filling the space between them (for however long) with ideas and information (for whatever purpose).

Last week, in fact, I had a great conversation with the car dealership shuttle driver who was giving me a ride home while my van was being worked on. We’d never met before, and we’ll probably never cross each other’s paths again, but we had a great discussion about the area we lived in, its history, and routes we drive (or avoid) for our commutes.

You wouldn’t think it was such a life-changing experience, but it was genuinely a great time — lots of interesting info and tips exchanged, ideas swapped, jokes told… Come to think of it, that was the kind of conversation that makes a real difference. It was the kind of exchange that enriches your life and also gives you valuable context for the world you live in. Learning more about the area you  moved to… getting inside information on what roads are terrible at what time of day… finding out about what’s going on in the area…

Yep, those actually are life-changing experiences.

And we need them. We crave them. So much, that we’ll go out of our way to find them, and we’ll seek them out some more.

When the shuttle driver dropped me off, he asked if I needed a ride back to the dealership to pick up my car at the end of the day. I told him no, I had already lined up a ride.

I was good.