I find myself wanting to play in the gray areas. The spaces that are ambiguous, ill-defined. This occurs more as the world around me strives for deeper shades of black and white. I drift further into the middle, where the colors fade into each other and possibilities still exist.
Where a single word, issue or ideology is not an apt description for a whole human.
I understand the urge to dwell in easily defined spaces. I think it is a natural consequence of uncertainty in an era where facts are alternative, and opinion is the truth. I keep visualizing a tug of war, where no-one is willing to lose ground for fear the ‘other’ might overtake us. Yet out of our uncertainty comes rigidity as the possibility for growth or change diminishes. And solutions to our challenges become ideological fodder rather than real-world possibilities.
The only winners in this game are the ones that have a vested interest in our perpetual outrage. They maintain this carefully crafted illusion through algorithms and commentary masquerading as fact. To support this tug-o-war, they keep the story focused at the level of the group — the story of them.
Us versus the other.
When I hear people talking about ‘the Left’ or ‘the Right’, I want to cringe at the overgeneralizations and 1-D caricatures that will be coming next. It has become too easy to condemn others based on these broad strokes. The idea that the individuals found within these groups tick every box and, therefore, worthy of our condemnation, is unhealthy for our society. Humans are messy and complicated and rarely fill the boxes we put them in. Also, ‘The story of them’ creates bigots of everyone.
See how easy that was?
Someone asked the other day if I ever was a feminist. I said, “Maybe when I was little, but I’m not now”. The current incarnation of that collective story is not something I connect too. Mostly because it has never really occurred to me that I was less than because of my sex. I am grateful to the many women who came before me that had to challenge that idea continually. I’m also grateful to those who rejected it completely and opted for a new story. I was lucky, I had a mother and older sister who showed me how powerful women are.
Today, I plug into the story where we are standing in our power, not perpetually rising to it.
Groups can take generations to evolve and heal, but the individual can change choice by choice. If a man treats me poorly, I don’t have to assume its because I’m a woman. He could just be having a bad day. I lose more power assuming the victim than extending good faith. Most importantly, it gives people the opportunity and room for growth. He doesn’t have to overcome a label or box and neither do I.
When I think about any significant change that has happened over the last 150 years, it is because people decided to unplug from the collective narrative that maintained the status quo. They no longer took ownership of the story and chose, instead, to align with a new one, either individually or collectively. When we stand for something versus stand against something, we redefine our role in the story.
We move from the oppressed to the empowered.
I think that’s why I’m opting for the gray areas these days. It is not filled with stark ideological lines that limit the potential of all involved. This isn’t to say that I don’t hold values or believe that things are important. It just means I’m not willing to define my story by being in opposition to yours. I want to see the individual rather than just the group you belong too. It’s time to stop playing tug of war like this is a zero-sum game. What would happen if we all let go of the rope, took a seat in the middle, and listened to one another? I think we’d hear we are more the same than we are different. And the places where we are different, we give ourselves some space to make it better.
(c) Can Stock Photo / urfingus
“We are all here to contribute our gifts toward something greater than ourselves, and will never be content unless we are.”
Last week I visited Hiroshima. It happened to be the same day that Trump stated he wanted to leave a decades-old arms treaty with Russia. Saying something to the effect that we need to build up our arsenal so there comes a time when we don ’t need them. As I stood at the place where the first atomic bomb dropped all I could feel was hurting in my heart. From where I stood, it seemed inconceivable even to entertain the thought of using a weapon like this again. With all that we know about each other and the world, could it really be possible? Would humanity let it happen?
There is a part of me that wishes we could skip to the good parts. To the place where I hope we are evolving toward. A place where we get along, where we can feed our people and where we see the earth as a living system and not as a resource to be exploited. The thing that seems crazy to me is that most people I know feel the same way. If we were to get out of our heads and into our hearts, most people ache for a better world not just for them, but for everyone. So why are we here? Why are we contemplating another arms race?
The story of ‘Them’ is deeply rooted in our culture. We see it played out in our media, our movies, and our politics. This story requires a hero, an enemy, and a victim. There is a battle to be fought, and there are always winners, losers, losses, and costs. If we really do want to get to the good parts, then we desperately need to write a new story. One with less collateral damage.
Many things have changed since World War II. Our world is increasingly interdependent; international business, tourism and living abroad are commonplace. We indeed are a global village. I can talk to my family while they are camping in Oregon as I sit at my table in Japan. We now face existential threats that can’t be solved by the actions of a single nation or a few banding together. It will take a worldwide effort. We are tied together in ways that aren’t easily untethered. This is also a time of increasing transparency. We are no longer able just to see glimpses of the planet from our little corner of the world that networks and/or governments allow us to see. We can see the whole world and talk to people on the other side of it in real time. This makes it increasingly difficult for those in power to manipulate or maintain a particular message. And with all of this, we are chipping away at the idea of ‘Them’ and looking toward the story of ‘Us’.
The ‘Them’ story is the ultimate game of distraction. It makes for exciting and dramatic television, but it also provides a justification for being perpetually angry, fearful, offended or indifferent. There is also an underlying message of futility that we are doomed to repeat this story over and over. After all, it is human nature, right? So, our only action is to hold tightly to our tribe and rally around the enemy. But I believe that if we took a minute to challenge this story, we’d see that we aren’t that different. That person sitting next to you isn’t the enemy, but rather just another human trying to do the best they can with what they know. I know this because every time there is a natural disaster or wide-scale human suffering – people show up. They show up regardless of their political affiliation or their membership to their tribe. They show up because in their hearts they feel moved to help. Somewhere they understand our connectedness.
The story of ‘Them’ is just a mutually agreed upon construct that we can pull the plug on any time we want. We can choose to stay focused on the enemy, and their contribution to the ills of society or we can choose to interrupt the regularly scheduled programming of fear and divisiveness and witness each other with compassion and humility. And while it seems like we are moving further away from each other, I think it is just the last throes of a dying paradigm. Right now more people are paying attention, people’s eyes are opening, and the reaction is to lash out at what they don’t want to see. The next step is to create what we do want to see. And that requires that we pull the plug on this narrative.
We may not have the same values or skin color or the same reasons for what gets us up in the morning. But we share something much more profound than any of those things. I know that you suffer and hurt sometimes. I know that you care about the world you live in, and you want things to have meaning. I know that you are a person that loves and wants to be loved. So, I choose to extend something more than judgment, fear or distrust. What if the best ‘weapon’ I have against our misunderstandings is not to condemn you but to sit with the notion, that maybe I just don’t understand yet. And until I do, I will just be with our differences and seek out our similarities.
Our culture’s battle mentality likes to fight wars, drugs, poverty, and illness. People are hailed as survivors and heroes and talked about as allies, enemies, and victims. What if stories of man vs. man and man vs. nature have been done to death (literally)? Maybe the only interesting story left to tell isn’t one of conflict but one of peace and collaboration. The question shouldn’t be who is right and who is wrong, but what is it I don’t understand and where do we align? That is the core of the story of ‘Us’. It seeks the true causes of our behavior and circumstances and allows space for change and growth. We will never bomb our way to a better world or spread democracy through invasion. We could easily fund this new story too if we didn’t need to fund the perpetual battle against ‘Them’. And let’s be real, in the face of existential threats, the story of ‘Them’ has a really shitty ending.