What might be the root cause of the great problems of the world: poverty, homelessness, crime, violence, war, racism, discrimination, hunger and global climate change?
I contend that it is a case of mistaken identity - a false sense of self.
We each see ourselves as separate individuals – single selves distinct from other human beings, our neighbours, nature and the world. And with this illusion, we seek first what is best for ourselves.
Even in our most significant relationships, discord arises with our differing views and competing needs; love and goodwill can be displaced by anger and resentment.
From the vantage of our separate selves, we create the illusion of the Other.
We can judge others in an instant, emphasizing differences (gender, age, body shape, colour, ethnicity and accent) with which we categorize them into groups of others.
They are then seen as competitors, enemies or threats whom we regard with fear, anger and hatred. Often we simply ignore them and treat their unmet needs and rights with apathy.
These attitudes widen the gulf between us and ultimately contribute to the problems of the world.
How can we close this gap and create a more cohesive community?
1. We must first recognize that every human being has a personal story but also the same fundamental needs as you. We all need food, clothing, freedom, education, safe housing, meaningful activity and a sense of belonging.
We each share the same range of emotions. We all have our dreams and goals. We have all experienced disappointment, loss and heartache. We all want to be happy.
Only by seeing beyond our personal prejudices and recognizing the three-dimensional human being behind outward appearances can we foster empathy and care.
2. We must recognize our shared connection and interdependency. None of us can survive without others. We take for granted public education, healthcare, safe streets and neighbourhoods. These are the products of the ongoing planning and work of countless individuals working for the greater good. Consider all the people who have contributed to you having food on your table – from farms to processing plants to warehouses and to stores.
3. We must identify our shared challenges and not blame others as the enemy or the scapegoat. The problems in our community, including homelessness, hunger, injustice and crime, can only be solved with our collective creativity and collaboration.
4. We can then begin building and strengthening our personal and social connections. This requires the support of our institutions, including our government, but it begins with each of us.
Where is the need? Who among us feels alone and needs help? What can we do together?
What is a stranger? Someone you don’t yet know.
When you are irritated by the lineups and crowds in the shopping mall or the traffic on our roads, ask yourself “What is a crowd?” and “What is traffic?” Lots of people just like you. You are part of the crowd and traffic.
When you ask “What is the world coming to?” also ask “What is the world?” You are. We are the world.
You are not just an individual. You are an integral part of a greater whole – a partnership and a family, a network of friends and a community, a part of humanity, nature and the world.
On Thursday, Dec. 6, I’ll be giving a free talk at the Bonsor Recreation Centre in Burnaby from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The topic is the Positive Potential of Your Relationships. I’ll discuss how healthy relationship and social connections are essential to your happiness and wellbeing; the qualities of healthy relationships; recognizing and managing challenges, and how we can foster a greater sense of belonging and connectedness in our community. It’s part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients health education program. To register, email Leona at email@example.com call (604) 259-4450.