A ewe picks her lamb out of the flock of other wobbly, frolicking cotton puffs – recognizing her baby by sound and smell. Horses separated from their herdmates call back and forth across fields and canyons, screaming their fear, excitement, and isolation.
Animals are wired for connection. For many species, herd, pack, or flock instincts promote survival from predation or, in the case of predators, facilitate hunting. Community bonds enable them to eat, mate, fend off or avoid attack, and raise their young.
The human animal has the same needs – food, safety, sex, nurturing. We are wired for community and connection. For millennia, humans have gathered in tribes, villages, and cities, growing food, building infrastructure, caring for children, pairing and un-pairing, forming bonds – connection.
You would think we’d have it down by now.
Yet, it seems like the simple acts of community and connection – expressing needs, asking, listening, seeing the common nature of our humanity have become mired in a swamp of confusion about belonging, ostracism, rules, and separation. How often, in our everyday lives, do we reach out and truly see each other?
A friend reminded me the other day of a quote from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The little girl Lucy is asking nervously about meeting the lion Aslan. She wants to know if he is “safe.”
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
This friend reminded me that, like Aslan, connection is not safe.
But, it is good. Connecting with others seems ridiculously difficult for a behavior that is so necessary to survival. We stand in crowded elevators, carefully examining our own shoes. We scan our phones while waiting in lines – anything to avoid accidentally intense eye contact. When disaster strikes, as it often does, we find ways to distance ourselves from both the victims and the perpetrators. It didn’t happen in our country/state/city/neighborhood. The shooter/bomber/villain was crazy/evil/an extremist/from another country/of another religion/from a broken home/spoiled as a child/neglected as a child.
We find labels and boxes for everyone and everything. Labels categorize. They sort. They organize. They separate. Rules and structure, while necessary to social order, can also do much to keep everyone in his or her own box. Isolated.
We like the idea of community, of connection. But, when it comes down to the moment, most of us are deeply uncomfortable with the realities of connecting with other members of our local or global community.
Connection and even daily interaction have prickly edges, sharp places where we poke into each other if we get too close. Our offers may be rejected. We might feel guilt over having to deny a request. We are afraid to truly see another human in need or pain, afraid that we might actually find out how thin is the line between “them” and “us.” We demonize those who do “bad things” for fear that others might recognize what our hearts see – the shared humanity between perpetrator, victim, and observer.
We crave moments of true connection, of seeing and being seen, of feeling a part of the world rather than an observer perched in the nosebleed seats of life’s grandstands. We crave connection, and it scares the shit out of us.
In the moments where our humanities collide, we are naked. If you’ve ever looked into another person’s eyes without flinching, you know what I mean. There aren’t any barriers; all of the things that we hide, from others and from ourselves, flow from us to the other person. Connection takes trust. And trust makes us vulnerable.
It is easy to feel like Charlie Brown with the football. We screw up all of our courage, put our trust in another person or group of people, and have it yanked away, only to find ourselves lying on the grass with our socks in a tree.
But, here’s the thing? Was Charlie Brown stupid? Foolish for trusting, over and over, in the face of all evidence to the contrary? Or, was he on to something?
We have two choices when it comes to trust. We can be Lucy. We can call the overly trusting person a “blockhead” and refuse to risk our valuable trust once it has been violated. Or we can be Charlie Brown. We can recognize that trust will be broken, it will be betrayed, it will not be safe. But we can choose to trust others, and trust our common humanity anyway, knowing that the football will probably be pulled away again.
Why would we do this? Why set ourselves up for a fall? Why put ourselves in the path of failure, shame, and ridicule.
The answer isn’t because we expect or have blind faith that someone will hold the football still. The answer lies deeper than that. It lies in who we choose to be. We can choose to be the person who trusts, who tries, who keeps trying to connect with a world that often doesn’t want connection.
Or, we can choose to be the person who pulls away the football.
I retweeted a poem written by the singer Amanda Palmer last night. It’s a piece full of connection that is far from black and white, an uncomfortable look at our complex, shared humanity. Not surprisingly, the internet trolls, and probably some very well-meaning people, came out in droves to pull away the football, to condemn her for finding connection in a place of social taboo. One of those trolls caught me, and my first response was to want to justify myself, to explain who and what I am – to make him see me. My second response was to curl up and run away from social media, and by extension a society that doesn’t want my attempts at reaching out.
But, here I am this morning. And here is the link to Amanda Palmer’s poem. http://amandapalmer.net/blog/20130421/
Those socks up in the tree? They’re mine. It’s okay, leave them there. Another pair will join them soon. I choose to keep trying to kick that football.