If we are to consider the heavens, how much more are we to consider the magnificent energies of consciousness that make whomever we pass in the street a far grander marvel than our galaxy?
—Marilynne Robinson from When I Was a Child I Read Books.
This is an amazing question. Have you stopped to consider what a marvel every person you encounter each day really is? The human brain is one of the most amazing things in the universe, far more complicated and intricate than any galaxy. It is capable of deep thought, heart-felt emotions, tears, great works of prose and poetry, music, art, love, care for an aging parent or a sick child. No matter what the IQ or educational achievement or the age of the person, each individual is an amazing creature, worthy of our utmost respect and awe simply because they exist.
Yet to listen to the tenor of the political discourse in today’s world, we (and I include myself in this) have divided ourselves into very narrowly defined “us” and “them”. Instead of recognizing the magnificence of the people with whom we share our world and celebrating that which makes us all unique, we create little elitist cults and tribes and exclude those who are different, whom we deem as “less”.
Robinson openly wonders if Democracy can survive in this climate of us-ness and them-ness, where we insist on separating and narrowly defining not only the people who differ from us but also in narrowly defining ourselves. And, I often wonder the same thing too.
Democracy is built on the collaboration of lots of different people with different viewpoints cross fertilizing ideas and culture to create a hybrid that is strong and vital—“hybrid vigor” to borrow a term from biology. But this vibrant cross fertilization cannot happen if we refuse to recognize the magnificence that is inherent in every individual and instead judge one another harshly against a set of contrived criteria.
In many ways technology, the marvel of the internet and social media, where we can “personalize” our news pages to only see the stories from outlets that hold our views or unfriend the people who challenge our assumptions has contributed to this tribal nature. Back in the day, when we had one newspaper and three networks, we all had to listen to the same information then gather on our front porches to talk about it. We read books. We thought. We spoke face-to-face with the person who challenged us, and because we were face-to-face, we treated them, our human brothers and sisters with more respect.
Today, even in the same neighborhood we rarely leave the confines of our domains to interact, to learn our neighbors’ stories. Instead we judge from behind a pulled back curtain on a foggy night, constructing our story on a partial picture.
I am saddened by the state of political and religious discourse in our nation (and state) today. We do not see each other as the amazing individuals we are. We do not practice walking a mile in the other person’s shoes. We have lost the ability to imagine the other person’s perspective because we no longer talk to one another and learn each one’s stories.
It’s scary, learning the story of the person who disagrees with you. Sometimes you find your own beliefs challenged, your heart opened to a perspective you never thought you would understand. Suddenly you find yourself talking to someone, acknowledging their magnificence and beginning to work out compromise and solutions to big problems.
Would that our government leaders—and the people who fund them—could learn to do this. Perhaps we should quit Facebooking and Tweeting and start talking face-to-face, start reading books again, start appreciating each other’s’stories. Then maybe we could, as we leave our domiciles and greet one another on the front porch, make the world a better place because we understand that whomever we may pass in the street that day, regardless their beliefs, is a far grander marvel than our own galaxy.
©2012 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.