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We are in the midst of an evolution

Whether you see it as the unhinging of society, or as a step towards the restoration of it, a new narrative is being written. One that will be edited and re-edited over and over again until enough of us are, if even just momentarily, satisfied and put down our pens.

We are grieving

Evolution is often fueled by anger. To quote Charles Eisenstein, “Anger works like gasoline. If you use it skillfully, you can move the world. That’s called progress. If you just spill it about and ignite it, creating spectacular explosions, that’s called arson.” To accelerate change rather than incite further chaos, each of us would benefit from pausing long enough to identify the source of our emotion and investigate the blame we thrust at each other.

For the majority of us, blame is a way of discharging pain and discomfort. Underneath all the accusations of wrong thinking and doing, lies grief that for many stems from the experience of living in a society that invalidates their identities, in ways that range from overt to insidious. This sense of marginalization spans across class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, race, and political affiliation. It encompasses discriminatory corporate and legal practices and social norms alike. It’s manifested in wage gaps and grade-school bullying, bathroom bills, illiteracy rates, etc. When we’re so often reduced to singular, easily-labeled aspects of ourselves, it’s no wonder fewer and fewer of us feel deeply connected to a diverse community. As a result, too many of us sequester ourselves within lives that are built (consciously or unconsciously) to mostly include those who look and think like us. By existing only within our category, we create the illusion of safety and comfort despite our isolation. Regardless of if we acknowledge it, this grief and loneliness exists, and we share it together.

The Other

If we are resolute in our commitment to improving society, our new narrative must have at its core, empathy- the ability to hear and acknowledge the experience of another human being or group of human beings. Empathy is not soft. Empathy is not woo-woo. Being empathetic does not mean that you do not take a stand morally and ethically. In fact, empathy can and should take the form of very direct and aggressive action in the face of wrong or evil. Unfortunately for us, empathy is not easy. Righteousness, however, often is.

It’s a lot easier to fire off a snarky communication than compose something that has empathy baked into it. Reaching out to another human being is even harder, and most of the time we stop at the point of doing so, or pick a fight, rather than confront our own fears, prejudices, and underlying grief.

Our dependency on separation leads us to use our anger to divide, label, exploit weaknesses, and rob people of their expression- that’s arson. Action driven by empathy, at minimum, affirms another’s experience. At best, it illuminates a path to a future that seems worthwhile to (and reflects the authentic best interests of) more than just your core group. Accuse me of sounding pollyannaish, but isn’t that what most of us claim to want for our society? If so, then pushing beyond the dozen or so carefully crafted sound bites and labels that we are fed daily is a mandate. Nuance is where commonality lives- getting there involves breaching the thick walls of perception.

Our Humanity

For those courageous enough to admit that they are grieving and seek its source, the irony of being human awaits.

Neuroscientists often refer to invariant representations, or the model that the brain uses to create our perceptions. As Jeff Hawkins, the author of On Intelligence stated, “The brain uses vast amounts of energy to create a model of the world. Everything you know and have learned is stored in this model. The brain uses this memory-based model to make continuous predictions of future events.”

The implications of the memory-based model are significant. Research suggests that as much as 80 percent to 90 percent of what you perceive is stored memory rather than what your eyes and ears actually see and hear. Ultimately, our ability to respond freely or authentically to what is happening around us is constrained- and we don’t know it. As a result, we may be incapable of responding appropriately to certain situations, or we may fail to see or take advantage of new opportunities.

Realizing that most of what you think, do and feel is nothing but the activation of stored memory can be unsettling, for it smacks the popular notion of free will as the foundation for who we are and what we believe right in the face. This truth not only exposes that we are not as independent as we’d like to think we are, but that we are not even fully present and move through our lives without ever really being in the driver’s seat of our own consciousness. So if this is the case, and neuroscience is right, then what can be done?

The simple answer is nothing.

The brain uses memory to ensure that you survive from moment to moment — this is a good thing. On the flip side, however, we’re programmed to put things into boxes, and it’s time to admit that the boxes we put each other in are just too damn small. They’re not serving us in the way we believe them to be, and are in fact the source of needless suffering, “stuck-ness”, and the painful separation that we propagate repeatedly under the cloak of a righteous false truth.

While this knowledge of how we function as human beings might evoke feelings of confusion or even hopelessness initially, the pathway to a better world and society is through cultivating awareness and an understanding of what is real and what is not. When this happens, our map of the world can be seen for what it is: empty, or void of any fixed meaning. In that gap exists the possibility of real change, a different approach, and a reduction of our collective grief. Getting there, however, requires first seeing the impact of categorical mindsets, and moving through, not around, the uncomfortableness of seeking and giving forgiveness.

Take Your Place

We don’t need arsonists. We need people willing to cross deep divides and solve problems.

The question is as fundamentally uncomfortable as it is essential. If we can be brave enough to be vulnerable, we can confront and overcome the fact that there’s always a piece of us that would prefer division. We can choose to follow that instinct, the one that insists the safest path is the one that distances us the most from anyone of another race or religion, or who sees the world differently, or we can defy it and act like the people we want to become.

Our responses are the sorting mechanism, leading us to the doorway of Taking Your Place.

Taking your place begins with knowing yourself. Not the veneer of “Self” you’ve relied on to hide your grief, but the one that knows that you’ve sought refuge in painting others as inexcusably wrong, or inhuman, so you could be right.

We excel at coming together to face external threats, but we struggle to cope when the threat is ourselves, or each other. At times like these, it’s important to remember that we’re programmed to create enemies out of peers, rather than face our internal demons. Nevertheless, change in the world is a manifestation of a shift in the way we think and view what is possible. There is nothing preventing us from writing exclusion out of our narrative and building a society that stands for everyone…nothing, that is, except ourselves.

So, let all of us be reminded that time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost. Right now, the opportunity before us is to pursue what we have in common and expand our understanding of what we share. Not in the form of the familiar concepts we live by, but by pursuing something deeper and more profound that we all too often discard for safety.

Look a person in the eye, listen to their words, feel their feelings, ease their grief.

That is taking your place. Shake off the status quo, and break the grip of rote behaviors that have carved such deep channels into our world. Make space for others, and find the reason for (and security in) dowsing your arsonists flame through the strength of empathy and compassion. Defy labels. Your place is yours to create.

Take Your Place.

Follow Mark on Medium Mark Eckhardt

Mark on Twitter @MarkEckhardt

COMMON is a creative accelerator and community for social businesses and projects. We help entrepreneurs build, launch, and promote products and ideas that take care of the planet and all the creatures on it.


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