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Other People

 
For over a year we have tried our best to socially distance, cover our faces, interact through clear plastic shields, and generally stay away from one another as best we can. Painfully, we have realized that this isolation is a contradiction of our inescapable and irrepressible social nature. We want to hang out with friends and family, and generally interact with one another. It’s who we are. How else are we to understand the in-your-face and personally dangerous events where people gather, creating covid super-spreader events. The need to be with one another, even on a minimal level, overcomes the rational basis for staying apart. People prefer to go to crowded theaters to watch a movie rather than watching the same movie at home for less expense. We go unmasked to rallies, bars, restaurants, beaches, religious services. The headlines over the past year have been filled with mass gatherings, government regulations prohibiting the same, and ensuing controversy about freedom and personal rights. Why? Because we want to be with one another, no matter how minimal the level of engagement, no matter how maximal the level of danger. It’s who we are.

It’s easy to say we are social by nature, but what exactly does that mean? What force is this that overpowers our reasonable fear of harm and draws us unto itself? In answering this question, it helps to begin by remembering those times when we are lifted out of the internal never ending conversation we have with ourselves, and instead become overpowered and immersed in a moment of self-transcendence. Some call it the Now. The Zone. The tears, the joy, the discovery, the Aha! Call it what you will, we all have the experience. But why, we wonder, are those moments so few and far between? Why is so much of our life lived on the surface, seemingly avoiding depth and meaning? Perhaps the answer is that depth and meaning are always there and that it is our lack of awareness that creates the blindness. Deprived of human encounter for over a year has sensitized us to what we had previously taken for granted and to which we paid little attention. Could it be that we are continually and unknowingly in the presence of that elusive Now?

Although the pandemic has focused on human interaction, these little opportunities for becoming more aware include everything and happen everywhere: stars and dogs, rocks and oceans, trees and flowers, icy lakes and mountain trails, solitude and socializing. Nothing is excluded. Every situation in life contains a secret it wants to share. The key to hearing the secret is openness, and openness means getting out of our own head, stripping our ego of its hold on our existence. It has nothing to do with whether one is secular or spiritual. It has to do with opening one’s eyes and seeing what’s there.
 
Sometimes what’s there is not agreeable and pleasant. Untold variables exert their power and impact our susceptible selves. The weather is dark and gloomy, not sunny and bright. The chemicals in our brain are unevenly balanced in one direction or another, for a day, a year, or a lifetime. The millions of parts and connections that comprise our body don’t always function as we wish they would. So seeing what lies before us need not be pleasurable, but it can be enlightening and empowering. The little moments of life when our eyes are opened just a bit further include not only pleasant times, but sad and disturbing times as well. The key in all cases is to escape the blockage of our egocentric lockdown and let the light shine in.

Now, back to our question about what drives our social nature. Although anything can jar us into a deeper awareness of reality, the mover par excellence for our awakening is encounter with another human being. The starry sky above and a quiet walk in the woods have the unquestionable potential to be for us one of those special moments. But there is something so very special about other people. Setting aside the dehumanizing power of mass mob mentality, other persons have the unique ability to both comfort us when we need to be lifted up, and also to challenge us when we get lost in our own egocentric fuzziness.

Similarly, we have the potential to do the same for them, an opportunity that calls us to ever higher levels of neighborliness and kindness. Comfort and challenge. Not every person on the street or in the office does that for us. Most of our interactions are casual, but they all have potential. And that is why, whether we know it or not, we so desire to be with others. At some deep, deep level, we know that another human being, given the right circumstance, has the power to break through the facade we have created and touch the real me. That is an event we long for.

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