Universal Soldier - Challenging Divisions and Finding Shared Humanity

We are constantly being bombarded with questions that divide us, especially with social media and traditional media.

But when it comes to things like human rights, religious beliefs and our freedom – do we have to pick a side?

My answer?

It depends.

I’m sitting in a small hospital conference room with the rest of the group that is orientating to a new ICU. All 8 RNs in the room are excited to learn about the new hospital we’re going to be working at, but before we get into that the facilitator leads us through an ice-breaker activity.

She has all of us stand in the middle of the room, and then asks the people who eat meat to go to one side of the room, and people who are vegetarian or vegan go to the other side of the room. We split up into our respective groups and smile at one another across the tables that now separate us.

We just learned something about each other, so that’s a good thing I suppose.

Next the facilitator asks the people who have had previous ICU experience to go to one side of the room, and the people who are new to ICU to go to the other side.

Again, we learn something about each other: who has the potential to be a mentor, and who might need a little extra support.

Then the facilitator asks all of the cat people to go to one side of the room, and all of the dog people to go to the other side of the room. Everyone moves to their respective sides… except me.

I stay standing in the middle.

The facilitator laughs and says – you must have both as pets, but surely you have to prefer one over the other! And I tell her, yes I have both as pets, but no I can’t have a preference of one over the other as they are both beautifully different in their own way.

She nods her head and we move onto the next activity, but this memory sticks with me especially now with everything that’s happening in the world.

I know that the idea that some people are cat people and some people are dog people is a relatively minor division that doesn’t really have a lot of impact. But what if this lays the foundation for other divisions to feel normal as well?

I mean, there was a time where they thought left-handed people were possessed by the devil afterall.

So is this how it starts? The cat people versus the dog people.

Then the people who chose to wear masks during the pandemic, and those who chose not to.

Conservative beliefs versus liberal beliefs or socialist beliefs.

Israel or Pakistan.

Ukraine or Russia.

Christianity or Islam.

What I really don’t understand is why it’s an “or” and not an “and” in those statements?

Why not Christianity AND Islam AND Buddhism AND Jainism AND Sikhism AND Mormonism AND Gnosticism AND atheism AND and and and….

Why are we so hung up on the Us versus Them mentality?

Why does the answer have to be right or wrong and not “it depends” or really just “yes” affirming all options?

I chatted about this with the host of a podcast called On This Walk recently and I feel like we really just scratched the surface of what this topic is really about. As I’ve said before, we can’t solve a problem from the same mindset that created it, and usually I’d also say that we should go back to a time when this problem didn’t exist – but to be honest it’s been around likely right since the beginning of humanity as we know it.

Somehow, somewhere along the way we have had a scarcity and a lack belief system programmed into our nervous system. One that longs for something that someone else has, or something that is taken away from us. One that leaves us feeling safe and better about ourselves when we can see that we rank higher in some social pecking order than someone else.

But why?

Why does it have to be “I have more money than you so I’m better” and not “I have more money than you, so let’s see about redistributing the wealth”?

No, I don’t believe in someone getting handouts they didn’t work for. But then I also don’t believe that anyone or any being or any divinity should get to decide who is deserving or not.

I know I’m getting altruistic here, but these are things that have been on my mind and that I’ve had the mental space to think about since I got rid of all social media accounts for myself and my business.

Because how can some Catholics really believe that their god is good and loving for everyone, but that the people and children in the corners of the world who haven’t heard of Jesus are all going to hell because they haven’t repented and been baptized?

And how can some religious people believe that their god(s) love and accept them with all their flaws, but don’t accept people who are lesbian, or gay, two-spirit, or trans or any other member of the alphabet mafia?

Not that those of us in the alphabet mafia are flawed because of it. Just sayin’.

I just want someone to make it make sense.

Thinking along this line always brings me back to the Vedic concept of Asteya – a sanskrit word that translates to “non-stealing.” And sure, it means not to steal someone else’s possessions.

But it also meant not stealing someone else’s right to their opinion. It also means not invading another country just because the current leader wants more land and resources. It also means not buying from companies that don’t support the earth and abuse their workers or don’t pay them a fair wage.

It means respecting other people’s choices.

But it also means not causing harm (ahimsa) because by causing harm you are stealing someone else’s safety, security, peace, happiness, health and more.

I know I’m not likely going to change anyone’s mind on some of those big polarizing topics with this, but if I can do just one thing I would want it to be to encourage everyone – regardless of how open minded you feel you are – to question your beliefs.

To wonder if this is the whole truth of what you believe in – or if it’s a partial truth with another part of that truth that overlaps with something else. And maybe that something else is the opposite of what you thought you identified as.

Please, question your beliefs to try and find common ground with the “other side” to help soften the “us” versus “them” mentality when you can.

Sometimes, when the fact is completely objective such as I don’t eat meat, or whether you’ve done something before or not, you’ll be able to stand on one side of the room and know that there isn’t any compromise for you.

But there still is a middle ground in the vegetables that both groups eat. There is still a middle ground in that you both have something you can learn from one another.

Please, search for the middle ground.

Search for our shared humanity.

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Universal Soldier - Buffy Sainte-Marie