We are blessed to live at a time when we are largely free to embrace what we find meaningful, connecting our choices to what we truly value. That reconnection is profoundly restorative for us, but also resonates well beyond our own lives. Why? Because it’s a step toward healing much greater divides in ourselves and the world around us.
We’ve grown accustomed to division. Early on we learn to value our physical selves by little more than appearance and ability, turning to professionals to manage the symptoms our misunderstood bodies develop. We ignore inner promptings guiding us toward more authentic lives, then expect the resulting misery can be resolved by assigning blame, seeking distraction, or ingesting comfort. We cede our true authority to experts until we no longer recognize it in ourselves.
Our lifestyles tend to separate us from nature as well. Food is processed, garbage hauled away, the passages of birth and death largely hidden. We go about our daily activities without taking part in processes intrinsic to the natural world so we don’t think about how completely everything is connected.
We’re led to believe that personal values and beliefs are separate from the dictates of work, education, and commerce. This leads to one set of ethics at home, with another set of more expedient guidelines for the world at large. We may treat our children tenderly yet buy products made by other children in sweatshops. We may insist on eating organic food yet carry out polluting corporate policies at work. We may identify as a person of faith, but not apply the principles of compassion and forgiveness to our political views.
Separation between our beliefs and actions creates a schism that is profoundly unhealthy for the world around us, just as it is for our bodies and spirits. It takes significant inner work to act with integrity. But when we do, we begin to usher in a mighty personal peace.
Our world struggles with religious intolerance, a vast wealth gap, ecological devastation, and injustice. We’re torn further apart when political leaders foster fear, religious leaders preach condemnation, and CEO’s mandate greed as a business policy. Such separation does not solve our most challenging issues. It accelerates them.
Strangely, struggle often brings meaning and purpose, even transcendence at times. That’s because struggle can wake us up. Struggle can cause us to react with judgement, fear, even vengefulness. This reaction creates new problems, new lessons, until we gradually awaken to greater understanding. Oftentimes it takes significant difficulty before people break through limitations, identify with higher ethical standards, and act in alignment with these core values.
The headlong pursuit of what is newer and more profitable has led many of us to ignore the separations that brought us to this point. Especially what is separate within us. But denying the fullness of who we are doesn’t allow us to be complete. When we acknowledge that each of us has the capacity for good and evil, for greed as well as generosity, for lies as well as truth—we finally build bridges of understanding. We can see beyond divisions within us as well as divisions between us. There’s less need to fall back on blame or fear. We can begin to fully awaken the boundless energy found in the real choice to tell the truth, to act with compassion, to do what is best for all concerned. That provides an endless wellspring of hope.
Surely today’s challenges will be transformative. We’ve shown increasing willingness to reach out to one another, to share ideas, to find meaning and value in common pursuits. We’ve risen up in hundreds of thousands of movements to create positive change. That’s enormously powerful. As Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Our words, actions and even our thoughts are creating the world anew.
These are some of the final paragraphs from my 2010 book, Free Range Learning. They seem ever more relevant…