As we approach Inauguration day, I want to offer a deeper, broader context for the divisions we are facing as a nation.
The Two Tribes
In the beginning, when the first humans came across each other, it went two ways. Upon seeing someone different, the more fearful one said, "You're different. Go away." The other, upon seeing someone not like him, said, "You're different. Come, teach me what I don't know." While our reasoning has grown more complicated throughout the centuries, it's essentially the same. "Go away" or "Come, teach me."
Since the beginning, the two tribes have had their philosophies. The "Go away" tribe has always believed that human beings, by their nature, are self-serving and untrustworthy, in need of control. The "Go away" tribe believes in stringent laws and constraints, both moral and legal, to ensure that people don't run amuck. The "Come, teach me" tribe believes that human beings, by their nature, are kind and trustworthy. The "Come, teach me" tribe believes in empowering laws that cultivate freedom, to ensure that people actualize their web of gifts through relationship.
The truth is that we are born into both tribes and can move from one to the other, depending on the level of our fear. The times of genocide throughout history mark the extreme, malignant manifestation of the "Go away" tribe. Distorted by fear, it's not enough just to say, "Go away." For unbridled fear turns to anger, which normalized turns into prejudice and hate. Such deep, embedded fear dictates that we need to make sure that those who are different can't return. And so, we exile them, jail them, hurt them, and in extremely ugly cases, persecute and kill them.
However, the times of enlightenment throughout history mark the extreme manifestation of the "Come, teach me" tribe, which through learning and wonder leads to eras of compassion and cooperation. Empowered by trust, curiosity turns into interdependence and a belief that we are more together than alone. When allowed to blossom, we realize that we need each other and our diversity of gifts to make life whole. This ethic is what gave rise to democracy in the first place. This is why America has grown so strong from welcoming immigrants for over two hundred years.
That we as a nation have moved through periods of isolationism and inclusion only shows how we as a people keep shifting between the two tribes. Our nation today has coagulated into these primary camps. For the moment, we seem to be heading into another period of isolationism and fear of those who are different.
I admit that I am of the "Come, teach me" tribe, at least until my fear overrides my better judgment. Though I always pray for our return to each other. And so, I believe it's imperative that we educate our children to live according to the fundamental dynamic that all the spiritual traditions teach: that we are all parts of one indivisible whole, which love and suffering reveal. And while we come apart from time to time, like now, while we push each other away in our fear, the natural resting position of life on Earth is to join. So that we can release the life-force inherent in the biological, societal, and mystical fact that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Love, trust, courage, and the ability to listen are the agencies of heart that allow us to rejoin. These are the qualities that each soul has waiting within it like golden seeds to be watered by the strength of our kindness. This is the purpose of community: to water these seeds and to join and rejoin.
For more poetry for the soul, click here.
For more by Mark Nepo, click here.