At a potluck in the big city a couple days ago, I talked with a man about the future of mankind.
Cancer had brought his personal future into doubt. He wondered about our collective future, and asked if I thought we were heading in the wrong direction.
The word “direction” felt important to me. In the direction our species is headed – in the distance – lies a place where the most fulfillment for the most people is possible. He asked me how I could see things in this way. A metaphor emerged which he told me he greatly appreciated:
There is a chasm between where we are now as a species, and a peaceful and harmonious place we want to be. On the other side of the chasm is a form of welcome and togetherness that our species as a whole has yet to experience.
The bridge that spans between now and this future does appear to be in bad shape.
The whole thing may tumble into the abyss.
Hatred in politics pulls it down in every country, schisms in religion pull it apart in every community.
It may be helpful to remember why a species would find itself in such trouble to begin with:
Was it a good idea to put billions of people at the same dinner table and allow them to talk about politics and religion?
We became global through commerce and then revealed everyone’s beliefs using social media.
While it might appear that lots of people have become dangerously deluded and unreasonable in the last few years, that is not the case.
We have been stupid and hateful for millennia. It’s part of being homo sapiens.
If you doubt this, please pick a chapter from a history book and read it. Any era or civilization will do.
Way back in the 20th century, Americans could think of ourselves as a group. We had no idea how stupid and hateful the other political party’s beliefs were. CBS, NBC and ABC didn’t show us that stuff.
Now we have Twitter. We get updates of outrageous insanity on a minute-by-minute basis.
However – we are, collectively, as nations and neighborhoods, moving toward something our species has never seen before. A wholeness and relatedness.
This means an interrelation of diverse and differing parts, just like when a mostly-masculine human and more-feminine person get together. They find things in common, but do not become identical. A global, harmonious, and peaceful world does not require us to meld into a large pile of gray goo.
In a fully interrelating, global world as experienced by a whole species, many beliefs won’t match up and that’s great.
So far, our species has mostly-transcended the de-humanization of those with differing skin color. We do less and less hatred-by-race. About 200 years ago most countries passed laws that people could not own people. Things have gotten better, and not perfect, since then.
Our species has mostly-transcended the de-humanization of those with differing genitals than our own. We do less and less minimization of women. About 100 years ago some countries passed laws that allowed women to vote. Things have gotten better, and not perfect, since then.
Now, we get to find ways to transcend the de-humanization of those with differing worldviews.
Transcending tribalism – our temptation to exalt “us” over “them” – when it comes to belief systems is harder. It was the spread of a belief in “human rights” that urged these other changes to happen. We can look around our country to see people who don’t value human rights.
Yet such people remain human.
We’re going to need to find something other than beliefs we all have in common.
This is the bridge to the future. Empathy and understanding for the human-ness of the “other,” based on something deeper or more fundamental than worldviews.
If you are a member of the Compassion Circle, you are working on building this bridge and strengthening the supports. Our human tendencies to divide and conquer are as basic as gravity threatening to pull this bridge down, and even our differing names for the same process have traditionally helped us divide.
We need ways to describe what lifts us up and holds us together – here are a few and please add more in comments:
It’s the opposite of “othering” that lets us connect
It is re-humanization that allows us to love
Seriously, truly, welcoming a diversity of worldviews (even when this involves enduring our own feelings of moral disgust)
The bridge to the future can hold up the weight of billions of people, as precarious as it may look now. We are weaving a new strand and strengthening it with our own lives whenever we put empathy and understanding into practice.