The Sanskrit term, samadhi, describes the meditative revelation of oneness with all that exists. We are interested in how coming to this universal realization with greater frequency will contribute to expanded consciousness between individuals. Humans have a long tradition of being wary of the unknown and resistant to change. Yet, with change as the common denominator for our radically divergent period of technological, scientific, and spiritual development, individuals and collectives are becoming more accepting of difference. In this more open common space, we hope humans will also be able to better harmonize the interconnected bonds between all life.
Unification, in its true sense, does not dull or suppress, but rather honors the fullest expression of diversity. The ways in which we each unify the different parts of who we are—our aspirations, limitations, and realities—and weave them together defines who each of us are as individuals.
Though we might not always be aware, we are indeed all integrated within a state of inter-being. The more we fail to notice the ever-present interconnectedness of life, the more we mistake our place on this planet. One of the greatest errors we as humans make is to see ourselves as separate from nature. This sense of separation can have drastic consequences.
E pluribus unum / One from many
There are two different ways of regarding relationships: either through a lens of atomization or through the perspective of holistic integration. In sociology, atomism refers to a framework in which the individual is the primary unit of analysis by which everything else is understood. In contrast, holistic integration states that all the various parts of a system are interconnected. We believe in the importance of describing systems such that each piece of the puzzle is acknowledged for its necessity. In this way, a sense of belonging corresponds to balanced integration and interrelation.
The collective requires the individual many times over. Conversely, the individual vanishes without the collective to supply context. Among the nearly infinite expressions of life, the web of human activity is distinctive in its emissions of light and gas. We also significantly contribute to outpourings of love, which occurs through resonant connections between individuals.
“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” — John Lennon, “I am the Walrus”, 1967
When we feel a sense of connection, we are more in touch with our true selves. The acknowledgement that everybody is going through some great journey, struggle, or even suffering can serve to alleviate the heavy tension that sometimes dominates the thoughts of our daily experience. We can feel elation when we exercise our innate drive to connect with others or with a place. Feelings of separation from one another and the environment also cut us off from ourselves. When we feel deprived of supportive relationships, it becomes more difficult to find meaning, so we substitute meaning with sensation. We end up looking for solace in temporary distraction, living only for isolated instances of sensory stimulation. With repetition of over-stimulation, our senses can become dulled, leaving us perpetually dissatisfied. In this state, we are in great need of finding ways to come together.
Community plays a critical role in the development of unity—it’s built into the word itself. How might we conceptualize and examine the idea of a completely unified civilization? Adopting different perspectives than our own may help. Even shifting between different points of view within our own outlook can help open our minds and modes of experience.
In The Practice of Everyday Life, the writer Michel de Certeau describes two points of view within a city: that of the voyeur and that of the walker. The walker is always in the midst of experience. Vision is limited to what is nearby. She or he only experiences the sights and the sounds of what is immediately in front of each step taken. However, for the voyeur, experience is shaped by her or his vantage point high above. From this perspective, everything appears more expansive. The voyeur is able to see what’s around every corner, and over every hill. She or he can see the wider scope of our world with greater context, although perhaps less detail.
Each perspective holds value. Whereas the walker experiences the immediacy and intimacy of life down on the street, the voyeur’s position allows for a view of how the city is organized on the whole, and provides insight into the inner workings of governments and corporations. Yet, isn’t the wisest option to find a way to experience both perspectives? We believe that only by having first-hand experience as both a walker and a voyeur can one really understand how best to maneuver the various interconnected facets of contemporary life.
Unification need not imply uniformity. What are the principles that will enable all people everywhere to be valued for their unique gifts?
“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”— Margaret Mead
“Unity in diversity” is a millennia-old concept, although, it could be said that it has never been more important to understand it than today. Globalization, for better or worse, has shrunk the world, and the state of our future depends on our ability to create a unified human response to the problems we face.
Sufi scholar Ibn Arabi, born in the 12th century, wrote on the idea of a “unity of being”. This metaphysical worldview positions God as the one truth, the single entity that defines all reality. All other beings or beliefs emerge from this God as a singular source of life. All diversity is considered to be rooted in this essence, countless valid expressions spring from this one, single truth. At the risk of appropriating and diluting a rich corpus of philosophical thought, adopting this idea may prove helpful to overcome the challenges of widening disparities in modern globalized society.
The bold vision of teamwork, we believe will empower all who participate, relies on a radical diversity of skills, perspectives, and identities. Humans have the capacity to overcome linguistic relativity by learning more languages and by becoming more familiar with other cultures. An old eastern European proverb imparts, “The more languages you speak, the more human you become.” The more we can each embrace and incorporate diversity into our own lives, the more we will contribute to a more diverse, and wholesome, network of interactions.
We are always in flux. Change is still our most reliable constant. And with change will come conflict. But conflict is not to be feared. Conflict creates opportunity for the emergence of points of view that did not previously have a platform. The clash between differing points of view can come to define culture and help us understand historical moments. We will likely never eliminate conflict. It might even be occasionally necessary. But conflict can be dealt with productively if we accept that it is the means by which new modes of thinking and living can come to be.
The basic building blocks of human life are all the same, no matter who you are or where you come from. We each need clean air and water, nutritious food, suitable shelter, and authentic human contact. And crucially, we all need the planet in a healthy state in order to continue to help provide us with these necessities. But beyond these base needs, we have more higher-level priorities like: the need to feel understood, to be loved, to be respected for who we are, and to live in alignment with our personal values. At our most fundamental levels, we share these unifying requirements of our being. All diversity of viewpoints ultimately emerges as interpretations of these shared needs.
Somewhat counter-intuitively, some uniformity is required to protect diversity. Intuitively, we understand that all people must have equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal freedom from oppression to adequately thrive. Even more paradoxically, some forms of intolerance must be maintained in order to maintain tolerance. The need to be intolerant of those who advance intolerant ideas was explained by philosopher Karl Popper in his 1945 work, The Open Society and its Enemies. Within its pages, Popper wrote:
“If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. ” — Karl Popper
While supporting the use of rational argument as the first line of defense against intolerant ideas, Popper concedes that responding with force can become necessary if the intolerant group in question have themselves denounced the practice of rational argument and begun to use violence.
Despite all the variance in our experiences and perceptions, we can still generally find a way to connect to each other on a human level. We all have to figure out how to make our individuated, and ever-changing, thoughts and intentions work in harmony with one another, so we’re not in a constant battle zone of conflicting patterns.
Various ways of constructing and interpreting reality show us the incredible variance of the human condition. To be a human is to be a tiny dot on an immensely, vast spectrum of experience. The entire human species itself represents another dot on an even larger spectrum of being that stretches through time and space. To hold that truth in your brain is one step toward a greater tolerance for others. This acknowledgement of unification through difference might help ease the tensions that arise when our unique differences come into conflict with one another.
Rugged individualism might be a romantic notion, but ultimately a lonely one. At a time in which the global population is climbing toward nine billion, there’s not a lot of room to be alone. All the more reason to learn how to live together and honor unity within multiplicity.
“You are not just a drop in the ocean, you are the mighty ocean in the drop.” — Rumi
The ancient African concept of ubuntu can be translated to, “I am because we are”. This concept acknowledges the oneness of all that exists in various states of relationships. We are also well served to remember that we, as individuals, are actually many people at once. We can vary according to the state we’re in at any given moment. And that, like a crystal, each facet of a multi-dimensional person is vital to the overall integrity of the individual.
In the novel, A Wrinkle in Time, the book’s villain is IT, the hive mind that corrects all behavior that deviates from the established norm. This abandonment of self, and total submission to another authority, is a perennial threat to each of our rightful claims of authority over our own lives. Any coercive means of subjugating individuals to the controls of an external force—whether religious, governmental, or otherwise—is, without exception, wrong. Individuality is beautiful and biologically necessary. Our lives can, and should, have many parallels to the lives of others but, at the end of the day, we must ultimately continue along our individuated journeys as distinct waves of energy.
We feel it’s important to discern the significance of the individual in a rightful context of the collective. Free-market capitalism is quite contradictory in its treatment of the individual. As a theory, it conceptualizes us all as little autonomous units, making rational choices in our own self-interest. However, this is illusory. Consumer choice is not individuality. We are granted a paralyzingly vast range of choices within a suffocatingly small range of experience. Often, our mode of living is largely dictated from above by the institutional forces that control the flow of capital.
The “sovereign consumer” was a term initially proposed in 1936, by economist William Harold Hutt, suggesting that the ultimate source of authority over the market should be the individual choices of consumers. In this framework, the consumers are the “bosses” and they shape society by voting with their money, thereby participating in a permanent election. Historian Niklas Olsen deems the idea of the sovereign consumer as the key actor of neoliberalism. But the problems with this idea are fairly evident. First of all, any system that equates an unequally distributed resource (money) with voting, is inherently undemocratic. Secondly, nobody is born a natural participator in a market. They are taught the rules and the restrictions according to a certain order established long before they came into the world. Maintenance of a market order implies a type of coercion, most often perpetrated by those who benefit most from it.
Organizing ourselves around the principles of mutual aid is a way to reconcile individuality with collectivity. Mutual aid describes a form of voluntary exchange between parties in which all involved reap the benefits. Basically, mutual aid means cooperation. We can consider it the polar opposite of competition, the defining feature of today’s economy. There are several prerequisites to allow this type of unmediated cooperation to function well throughout society. There must be no institutionalized power imbalance. There must be no profit motive, in which one party accumulates more resources to the detriment of the other. It must occur in a context in which basic needs and civil rights are guaranteed to all. And finally, all participants must be free to represent themselves in the democratic process, as well as be given equal footing to do so.
People would be free to live as they pleased, provided they do not infringe upon the rights of others. “Do no harm” is especially applicable as a mode of conduct in a society organized by mutual aid. Freed from coercion, all human activity would be truly voluntary. The rights of the individual could be fully expressed within this collective context. Working hours would be based upon need, not inflated to trigger growth. And all people would have real autonomy over how they choose to spend their valuable time.
Cooperation is by far humanity’s greatest strength. There is no aspect of capitalist competition that could not be achieved just as well through cooperation. Russian scientist and revolutionary, Peter Kropotkin, interpreted the evolutionary concept of “survival of the fittest” from a perspective that takes “fittest” to mean “most skilled at cooperation”. He argued that this skill amongst communities of animal species has historically been the greatest indication of successful survival and development. We have an innate talent for cooperation, but have organized our economy in a way that makes it difficult to practice. Relationships based on mutual aid have been integral to our ethical evolution and have the greatest potential to propel us ever further. We can elevate the importance of individuals by situating them within strong and supportive collectives.
Specialization allows us to better understand nuances and specificities, but when it comes to areas of study, we can become ensnared in that level of detail. Working across disciplines is necessary to achieve a holistic outlook. Make sure to share what we find inspiring, learn from others, and learn more about ourselves.
Contemporary society is shaped by hyper-segmentation. Sharp lines are drawn between roles, work is compartmentalized into distinct silos. In the search for efficiency and order, tasks are broken into small divisions and addressed individually while human activity is divided into parts, with each person responsible only for a narrowly defined task. The unbelievable complexity of our global organization necessitates some form of division and specialization of labor, but this comes with drawbacks. Communication between disciplines is often limited, and a holistic understanding of the greater whole sometimes becomes difficult to see.
The story of the blind men and the elephant tells the tale of the different responses that several blind men have when they’re forced to touch this unseeable animal for the first time. Without the sense of sight, the men instead explore the animal primarily through their touch, each one in turn declaring their conceptualization of an elephant based on the small part of the larger whole that they’re touching. One, as he holds the creature’s trunk. declares it to be similar in nature to a snake. Another runs his hands over the elephant’s broad flank and deduces that it must be akin to a wall. This continues, until all have delivered their conflicting statements based on their corresponding interactions with various body parts of the elephant. The disagreements between the men escalate, in some tellings rising even into physical violence, as each of the men find themselves unable to reconcile the others’ conclusions with their own experience.
This story can be taken to illustrate a range of insights into human nature. At its most basic, the message is: it is impossible to understand the whole of a thing by looking at only one of its parts. None of the men are strictly wrong, but their subjective interpretations are incomplete. Through interchange and the direct sharing of their respective experiences, they would all be able to enrich their own knowledge. And yet, mere descriptions are not enough, they have to invite the others over to feel it for themselves. We must all recognize the limited range of what our observation allows. In order to better grasp the mysteries of life and the tremendous amount we do not know, we need to work together and be open to what others are experiencing.
We must all look to transition across illusory divisions of craft versus industry, of art versus science versus spirituality, or any other false separation of human endeavor. None of these divisions are serving us as people. In fact, they’re often causing us harm. Issues with over-specialization can be seen in hotbeds of technological innovation, as evidenced by cultural fallout from companies in Silicon Valley. The influential businesses headquartered there tend to lack workers with backgrounds in the humanities, and are instead saturated with employees arriving there from STEM fields. The technical brilliance of their workforce is undeniable, but scandal after scandal has shown us that including those more familiar with ethics and humanities would help to avoid these public relations disasters and reinstate public trust in these institutions. But, at present, seemingly nobody at these companies is voicing these concerns. Or nobody is listening. This problem is down to the myopia of the workforce’s relative specializations. We need to listen much more and to more different views. By committing to being receptive to the experiences of others, we will become more informed and insightful.
Brother, sister, friend… Re-contextualizing the language we use to describe relationships between people can help repair the damage of distrust that leads to separation and isolation.
The way we refer to strangers shapes how we think about these people we don’t know. If we use negative terms, we hold negative thoughts, and we create negative associations. If we give people the benefit of the doubt, and say to ourselves, for instance, “I would like to know more about that person who I’m connected to through the commonality of existence,” then we can create kinder conditions in which to interact.
In Nepal, one addresses any other man or woman who is not a family-member as brother or sister. Bai or dai, the words for a boy or man not related by blood or marriage, translates to either “little brother” or “big brother”. Similarly, bahini or didi, the respective words for girl or woman, existing outside of familial relations, translates to “little sister” or “big sister”. Especially for non-native-Nepali speakers, using these terms makes us consider their meaning and significantly shapes how one thinks of the relationships between apparent strangers. The effect is one of bridging gaps between people by revealing the human bond that exists between all of us.
In various progressives preschools across America, the teachers refer to all the children as friends. In this way, there’s no formal separation between children. And not only are they all equally respected as children, they are more than that, they symbolize a community based on friendship. These simple adjustments help us to see those new or strange to us not as someone to reflexively draw away from, but as someone to engage, another member of the human family we all belong to who we have yet to meet.
By choosing names for one another that speak to relationships that resemble family structures, or acknowledging that any stranger can become a friend, we change our mindset and attitude to become more receptive toward others. Language shapes our reality, and greatly influences the stories we tell about ourselves and the world. In English, we have a problem in which we emphasize nouns and adjectives too much. This leads to a misconceptions, like, for example, we are what our age is or that we are whatever condition we’re experiencing (I am a forty-year-old. I am hungry. I am tired. And so forth).
Spanish language offers a more fluid notion of impermanence. In Spanish, one says: I have forty years. I have hunger. I have tiredness. The implication is that whatever you have now will not necessarily be what you have later. Nothing about us is beyond change, we are ever in motion. We can learn to share responsibility and privilege by paying greater attention to how we speak of one another and ourselves. Rather than divide one another into categories based on often temporary conditions, we can make more concerted efforts to share and celebrate our enduring commonalities.
By integrating some of these traditions into our own everyday thoughts when we encounter or interact with strangers, we can become more compassionate toward one another. We can all benefit from taking more careful consideration of how we refer to one another. When we feel agitated and ready to insult someone we feel has slighted us, we are well served to remember that the perceived slight does not define who that person is. Even if we only interact with a stranger for a fleeting instant, we are still creating a connection in that shared moment. The more we can honor that connection and subvert a tendency to put up a barrier between ourselves from others, the richer our experiences will become.
- The Power of Humility
- Healthy Habits
- Environmental Actors
- Economic Priorities
- Lessons Ahead