In a recent Quanta Magazine article, the hypothetical question was asked: What is the cause of death in a drunk driving accident? The hypothetical answers will vary: A doctor says it’s a ruptured organ. A psychologist blames impaired decision-making. A sociologist points to attitudes about alcohol and driving.
In a recent Invisibilia podcast, a story from northern Minnesota was about how the same community of bears was feared as dangerous by some neighbors and respected as gentle creatures by others. The storytelling in our brains informs our opinions — viewpoints based on a mixture of facts and emotions and learned lessons. Where we focus gives us a different perspective about the same thing.
At conferences I attend about the nature of consciousness, I learn from interdisciplinary panelists — physicists on quantum behavior, biologists on cell behavior, religious theorists on human nature. I tend to ignore adjacent conversations with healers and consciousness hackers. I identify with “thinkers,” not with “feelers” or “techno-geeks.” Overwhelmed with perspectives, I stick to the categories that resonate with me.
I like to think there is a collective space where everyone can hoist a cold drink together and live in perfect harmony. Yet … life is busy, choices are quick, comfort comes from finding those already in alignment.
So what do I/we do with that? When our world consists of individuals who see things dramatically differently — whose prisms of view are woefully separated — is collective unity possible? Can we ever stop creating fragmented categories of “others?”
When viewpoints collide
In May, a group of all non-white-male speakers from around the country were invited to a Humanist conversation at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis to speak about storylines that restrict us. State Sen. Bobby Joe Champion talked about how far society has come since he was forbidden to go into his white friend’s house as a child. His message: We need to find “undiscovered agreements” to bridge communities.
Our tendency to network with like-minded people and avoid uncomfortable conversations, said Kansas City community organizer Diane Burkholder, means we need to proactively develop relationships with those who have different experiences. Burkholder’s message: We don’t need more panel discussions, we need more white people to give up their seats at the leadership table, even if it makes them feel less “safe.”
Desiree Kane, who spent seven months at Standing Rock, shared one of the most poignant music videos I’ve seen (search “Love Letters to God,” by Nahko) that shines a light on the domination tendencies of white people, and reiterated that white U.S. presidents with superiority complexes are nothing new.
Andrea Jenkins, a transgender oral historian running for Minneapolis City Council; Ashton Woods, a Black Lives Matter leader in Houston; and Sikivu Hutchinson, who works with Los Angeles students being pushed out of the school system, also lent their voices.
The overall message: Individually, we don’t know as much as we do collectively. Messy, conflicted and sometimes tortured as it is, our unavoidable oneness as a planet requires us to get better at integrating.
At a reception honoring the retiring Kari Moe, former Chief of Staff for U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, she talked about the Wellstone motto: “We all do better when we all do better.” Sen. Scott Dibble, Rep. Frank Hornstein, Mayor Betsy Hodges and Wellstone legacy advocates Rick Kahn, Pam Costain, Jeff Blodgett and Marcia Avner were among the attendees. Moe encouraged everyone to take Minnesota’s philosophy of politics national.
A related philosophy is Ubuntu — an African term that refers to the interlocking nature of our uniqueness. Humanity is not subject/object, you/me, separated individuals, but the co-creation of each other.
“We are because you are; I am because we are.”
One of my favorite contemplation partners is David Perry, home renovator by day and student of theology, Jung and all things cosmically intriguing. Perry brought these disparate thoughts of my month into focus when he suggested that perhaps the story of our creation — our evolution — is the break from the origins of unity (exile from Eden, birth) and then our personal journeys back, through increasing circles of belonging (to family, tribe, nation, planet, universe) until we reconnect in the unified space. “The unity is richer for all the separateness we’ve endured.”
As he suggested in a wedding poem:
From atoms to molecules to cells to you and me,
Everything grows in greater circles of inclusivity.
Some have called it an unquenchable cosmic urge
For everything that arises to eventually converge.
Yes, our whole is more than the mere sum of our parts. But perhaps the deeper message is that it is not what we think, person to person, that matters — but that we are inevitably, irrevocably intertwined despite ourselves.
To the question of whether collective unity is possible I might answer: Beyond our human/monkey brains, it already exists.
Mikki Morrissette is writing the Attainable We book of essays that explores the science and story of what connects us. She will speak about the hopefulness within human arrogance July 9 at First Unitarian Society.