At the time of this writing, we are in the midst of one of the most tumultuous years in recent history. Certainly of my slightly longer than a half-century life. We just stumbled into 2021 and not together. We were tripping and elbowing and hollering at each other all the way across the line and the stumble stagger still hasn’t stopped. It feels appropriate to recognize that saying the number of the new year comes out 2020 won. I wish that was funnier.
2021 didn’t start off well. We are not in agreement about the viability of our electoral system. Both political sides are claiming the other guy is the bad guy and will ruin our country. Earlier this week, protesters/rioters/insurrectionists stormed the capital building in Washington DC and halted the congressional count of the electoral vote. Property was destroyed and people died as we sat watching our screens in shock. Capital police were overrun by this non-peaceful protest. It was an extreme example of numerable peaceful and non-peaceful protests that continued all over our country regarding racial justice and government overreach. Even if you disagree with the assertions, you can certainly agree that we are divided as a society to a devastating effect. We are not at peace with each other and our current systems do not contain the solution.
The pandemic is increasing its infection rate even as vaccines are being released. The distribution process is flailing. Schools are closed/open due to state mandates because there is no national plan. Businesses are closed either because of state mandates or because they could no longer hang on. Unemployment is way up. Mental health issues are spiking due to isolation, anxiety, and all the other symptoms of a pandemic, civil unrest, and racial tension that in combination with each other create a living situation most of us have never experienced.
When COVID-19 arrived on the scene, I hoped it might bring us together as a country. Maybe even globally. After all, we have become quite proficient at hating our enemies together. I thought maybe our tribalism would merge since we had a common enemy. It didn’t. We figured out how to divide the blame and stay in our camps lobbing accusations at each other. We have, for the most part, picked our candidates and our issues and just argued about them. At least. In many cases, we have vilified anyone who disagrees with us. We put each other into narrow categories that mean radically different things to each side. Most conservatives don’t hate black people or immigrants. They don’t think poor people shouldn’t have health care, they don’t believe in a one to one equation between hard work and success, and they aren’t trying to destroy the planet. Most progressives do not like the idea of abortion, they do want to see immigrants become proper citizens, don’t hate their country, don’t want to cancel everything, and do not live in fear of Covid-19.
But we treat those who we identify as different than us as if they hold views that are at extreme different ends of the spectrum. We act and speak as if they are 100% wrong and probably immoral. We seem to believe that if the opposing team’s leadership gets into a power position, our whole system will collapse. It’s ironic that both sides think the same thing.
This is a big problem. But the problem isn’t that we are divided. That’s a result. The problem is that we are looking at our system wrong. This is where the change is needed. We need a complete paradigm shift. Each of us bears some responsibility for the condition of our culture - including our division. It is the end result of our beliefs, words, and actions. Whether we meant it to be or not.
We have abdicated our responsibility to invest our whole selves into the lives of those in our community. We have believed in a hierarchical system and given our job to people that are higher on the hierarchy. We’ve believed in our role as consumers and the top priority of our comfort, entertainment, and happiness.
This is a depressing analysis. But I’m writing not because I’m dismayed that our current system isn’t working. There’s already too much of that out there. I’m writing because I believe there is a way our true system can work. Our human system has intrinsic rules that govern the health of the system. It’s self-balancing if we follow those rules. Even better if we recognize the potential within the boundaries of those rules for the unique expression of human capacity.
I’m not saying we need change because our current system is broken. It is, but that’s not the important issue. That’s just the indicator that tells us we’re off course. We don’t need to invent anything new, we just need to figure out how the system is supposed to work and return to that (it wasn’t the 50s). It will cost us some things. Some of our independence, our ideology, and our comfort will need to adjust. But there’s always a cost. We are always paying anyway. Let’s pay for better instead of paying for more of the same terrible circumstances.
We got here because we’re growing up. We are like an awkward teenage kid that’s trying to figure out their identity and wondering what the heck is happening to their body and feelings. We are just growing. Maybe in every direction though, not just up. As a society, we are organic. Like a fungus. We grow every direction and in every way - physical size and shape as well as how we relate, communicate, manage ourselves, feel and behave. We have grown in our understanding of the metaphysical and existential. We’ve certainly figured out a lot about a lot of different subjects. One of the things we haven’t got right yet is how to arrange ourselves within our own system.
We are not naturally arranged by pecking order and we don’t produce healthy community when we set it up that way. I read recently about an experiment with egg laying chickens. The most effective individual producers were bred with chickens like themselves. There were also chickens who were more productive as a group even though individually they were not high performers. They were bred with others like themselves. Turns out the uber-productive chickens tore out each others feathers because they were trying to arrange the pecking order. It was a competition. The group chickens continued to produce in peace and significantly outdistanced the individualist chickens. It reminds me of the tortoise and the hare story. It may seem like we’ll get there slower, but we’ll get there with results that are scaleable without overly fragile complexity. Results that we want.
Half plucked chickens pecking each other at the top of the hierarchy are not our hope. We need to figure out how to work together more effectively. How to be together in a way that produces health, room to grow, and flourishing humans. I really don’t think this is that hard. The hard part is stopping the momentum of the current approach. Again, I’m saying we should stop doing what doesn’t come naturally and return to what does. We should return to what works for humans and do so in a way that accommodates the growth we’ve experienced in the last few hundred years.
A Connect Coalition is a way of arranging ourselves that produces healthy community.
I write about belonging, storytelling, community building, prevention, trauma, resilience, neuroscience, and epigenetics.