“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
(Chief Seattle, 1854)
COVID marathon number six…
I don’t know about you all, but I’ve been feeling like I’m on at least my 6th 2020 marathon. My body started eating itself several marathons back. I’m spent, straining toward the week I’m taking off at the end of the year, hoping it will be enough to catch my breath and come back better.
The number of people getting COVID, and dying from it, is spiking again. It seems pretty clear that we are not going to be in a better place with this for a very long time. I found myself wondering what it was going to take to find a resurgence of hope alongside the resurgence of suffering.
As I listen to my own soul and to those around me the answer seems painfully ironic: Connection. Our lack of connectedness is making us fragile.
Healing happens in relationship
One of the first things I learned in grad school was that human beings heal in the context of relationship. Knowing things intellectually just isn’t enough. In fact, having an intellectual understanding of what’s not ok inside of us all by itself will drive us crazy. Now we know why we are doing/thinking/feeling the thing we didn’t want to do/think/feel… but we’re still doing it.
Why? MBraining. The data we need in order to grow, to heal and to change is not simply intellectual. It is also sensorial and experiential. We are made for community. We are made for touch and for connection.
More than just a party
People have been telling me for months that they miss hugs, the physical presence of their friends and loved ones, time to chill out and relax with friends at a bar, at a sporting event… pretty much anywhere. We miss our sense of freedom to make choices and move around the country, yes, but most of those movements for most of us, pivot on human connections.
Don’t touch. Don’t hug. Don’t breathe. Don’t … connect. It’s turning our national paradigms on their heads.
The United States was built on a myth of fierce independence and individualism. It’s a social construct that my British relatives brought with them. The Industrial Age made Individualism iconic in the broader culture of the United States. Inventors and Innovators were praised for the shiny new things they developed. “Masters of Industry” were exalted and handsomely rewarded. We took our colonialist conquering norms onto the world stage and fostered a goal of becoming “The Greatest Nation on Earth!”
Some of you who were raised like I was are scratching your heads saying, “Well what’s wrong with that?? Look at all of this great stuff we did!”
Oh, the adolescent-ness!
Have you ever noticed that adolescents seem to frequently be engaged in battle for an illusionary and unhelpful supremacy? It starts with that middle schooler’s perpetual “Well actually…” statements to counter anything and everything they hear. It plays out bizarrely in high school cliques as competitive kids try to use everyone around them to prove to themselves that they have worth… at the expense of everyone else.
And so I say to the United States: Who the heck ever declared a global competition to begin with?!?! Wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense to collaborate with other countries and grow something that works for everyone? But no. We couldn’t have that. Sounds too much like Communism.
The backs and necks of community
I was taught a story about who we are as “Americans” in school. 30 years later, my daughter was taught something that was still pretty much the same myth. The story goes like this: Europeans travelled to and “cultivated” this great land, transforming the “wilds” into “civilized” communities. We went on to develop amazing technologies. We pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and became, (yup,) “the greatest country in the world!” (> Cue the sappy music. <)
We were told that if we just work hard enough, the American Dream is ours for the taking. Immigrants from all over the world have come here to do the same.
They left out the part where that “cultivation” came through the brutal genocide of the 95% of the people who had already lived here for thousands of years. (You can read more here.)
They left out that the Colonizer European mindset has been that anything that differs from European norms is “evil,” “uncivilized” and therefore needed to be destroyed.
They left out the part where we kidnapped people from their homelands and enslaved them, building our economy on free labor. (To better understand how Americans of African descent are still being victimized in the ripple effects of slavery, you would do well to watch Ava Duvernay’s documentary, 13th.)
They also left out the part where greedy people set up greedy systems that make it so that anyone who doesn’t start out with an economic advantage and cultural favor is highly unlikely to be able to succeed.
The ‘I’ and the “we”
In leaving out these “little tidbits,” we present a skewed story about who we are. We are led to believe that our rugged individualism makes us great. (What does Tiffany say about not knowing who we are and acting like someone else?)
Flaw one: Our so-called rugged individualism is a system of greed and exploitation that has cost us dearly as a people on every level. We have created systems that do not honor, care for and respect the community as a whole. Flaw two: In cutting off so much of our true history, we have completely missed that the vast majority of Americans come from an understanding that thinks in terms of “we,” not “I.”
The narrow band of culture that wrote our laws, developed our justice system and perpetuates our economic and academic structures, is in the minority view of how humans work best. If ever the message were cloudy, it is now unmistakable: We need each other to survive.
But my FREEDOM!!!
Our insistence on “our rights” and “our freedom” is quite sincerely killing us. When it comes to “American Freedoms” I believe it’s fair to call our military professionals and veterans authoritative. Afterall, these are people who have been willing, and have, put their lives on the line to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. To my mind, they get more of a vote in this conversation than I do.
I’ve worked with the military community throughout my entire career. One understanding that has been nearly universally true from the Marines who did one tour and discharged to the high-ranking, career Army officers I’ve worked with: “With freedom comes responsibility.” It’s not just a kitschy slogan – our freedom is not free. Liberty is not license.
In order to obliterate COVID, we are all going to need to work together sacrificially to keep one another safe. In order to not completely lose our minds and our hope on our way to obliterating COVID, we need to connect with one another. In order to heal, we need to isolate. However, in order to keep our “why” fresh and alive, we need to connect, to build community at all levels, and to cull the vast and varied wisdom from all corners.
Collectivist minds, this is our time to shine! Innovators? Dreamers? Out of the box thinkers? Your time is now! We need you to help us find safe ways to connect meaningfully with one another without infecting one another.
As we grieve the ways we would prefer to connect, let’s also embrace the ways we can connect! How can you reach out today and help someone else? How can you allow someone to offer their gifts to you? As Anne Lamott wrote: “If we are not giving and receiving every day, we become a stagnant pool of clutch and pinch and grab; a generous spirit is heaven.” This is community. This is vitality. This is healing.
How can you make that happen in your life today?