Building Unity: The 5 Things we All Have in common

It is hard to turn on a radio or television, open a newspaper, or click on the internet nowadays without being bombarded with disturbing images and information. The lines of tension are growing seemingly wider in our communities and beyond. The shadows of bigotry, nationalism, isolationism, and righteousness seem to loom in every direction. The language is becoming progressively inflammatory, and increasingly egregious acts of violence are becoming all too common. Our society is suffering, and it is fair to wonder if we could ever really stand in unity?

Let’s take a step back and look at how we have gotten where we are. In the midst of the stress and chaos of our daily lives, it is easy to forget that nations, governments, property lines, religious and political structures, and most of the ideas we stand for are all human made. Not that these things aren’t important, but none are absolute. They hold only the power that we give them. So why do we do it? Why do we adhere to religious beliefs that tell us it is okay to kill someone who believes differently? Why do we hold on to political ideologies that support undermining the rights and dignity of our fellow humans? Why do we hold on to the pretense that somehow one life matters more or less than another?

Consider the fact that human nature far pre-dates any form of societal structure that we see as reality today. We grasp firmly onto our thoughts, beliefs, and structures in order to meet certain needs and desires that we all share on a fundamental level. So, let’s strip away politics, religion, nationalities, skin color, or any semblance of that which you would see as making someone different from you.

If we endeavor to find out what unites, rather than divides us, ask yourself the question, "What is it that we ALL really want?"

1. To Live in Safety

We all want to be free from danger. Even those who put themselves willingly in harm’s way almost universally do so to help create a safer environment for themselves and those they serve. This need is so powerful (tied to our most basic need of survival), that many live under the reign of brutal dictators who in return offer the illusion of keeping them safe. Even if the exploitation of the masses is obvious to the masses thenmselves, they will continue to choose this over a feeling of being exposed or unprotected.  How many beliefs, structures, relationships, or systems have you put or kept in place in your own life in the name of feeling safe and secure?

2. To Be Free from Illness or Pain

No one wants to be sick or in pain. Those who feign or support their own illness often do so to meet other needs (acceptance, attention, love, meaning, etc.) We go to great lengths to avoid our own suffering, sometimes to the extent of creating further suffering in the process. Drug, alcohol, food, sex, and spending addictions are a few examples, as are eating disorders, compulsive exercise, and even activities like reading and binge tv watching.  Life avoidance is a preoccupation in our society, and this serves to further detach us from one another.  Recognizing this need in ourselves and others can start to heal the rifts we experience in our own lives and in the communities in which we live. 

3. Connection

As much as you or anyone you know may beg to differ, no one wants to live in complete isolation. Those who choose this often do so out of fear, mental illness, or intentionally as a path to spiritual attainment. At our core, we are communal creatures, and favor a warm embrace or a good laugh over feeling isolated and alone. We go to great lengths to find like-minded people or others with whom we can engage in relationship.  We like to feel like a part of something bigger than ourselves. Whether we see ourselves as part of a family, organization, community, relationship, workplace, faith tradition, support group, or political party, we are constantly finding ways to connect, and that greatly impacts our perception of ourselves and the world around us.   Take a moment to reflect on how your own need for or rejection of connection contributes to your own experience of joy and of suffering.

4. Meaning

Having been around many people in their final moments of life, I’ve yet to encounter a single one who wished her or his life had been less meaningful. Most had regrets about lost relationships or opportunities, or wish their choices had been tilted more toward joy and fulfillment rather than duty or obligation.  Many have accepted great losses and suffered tremendously in the name of finding more meaning in life.  You don't have to do this.  Just note what really makes your heart sing in life, and embrace it as if your life depended on it.  As you breathe your final breaths, are you going to be wishing you had spent more time on Netflix or Facebook?  Probably not.  Call the friend you miss.  Hug the daughter you are fighting with.  Shake the hand of the person standing next to you on the bus or train.  Give what you can, and take what you need.  Life is short, and the clock is always ticking.  

Realize that many of our societal structures have been created throughout time to help us maintain some sense that these needs are being met and protected. Many times, the ways we go about achieving the effective meeting of these needs is highly flawed. But, what is important to point out, is that these give credence to any belief system you want to hold. Both the moral protester and the ISIS fighter feel justified in their actions. As screwed up as it sounds, both are fighting for what they want the world to look like.

Again, I’m not saying I find all views people hold acceptable; it’s just a way to look at and understand the world in which we live. In fact, many of those who have “gotten it,” and challenged the societal structures in the name of greater peace and tolerance, have not been treated particularly well (and you know the names).

To get to #5, let’s go one step deeper. Think about yourself evolving throughout your own life. Imagine yourself as a young child, a teen, a young adult, and the various stages in which you have lived until now. Think about all about you that has changed: your physical appearance, tastes in clothing or hairstyles, jobs, hobbies, spouses, beliefs, political or religious orientation, etc. As the parts of you that you identify with are in a constant state of flux, the question is, who is really home that you point to when you say the word “I?”

Notice that there is a part of you that feels almost no different today than it ever has. There is an ever-present “me” that lives below the surface of fashion trends, bad haircuts, dissolving relationships, and a constantly shifting identity.  

The fact is, that this part of you is shared with every living thing on this planet. We embody and express it in different ways, but we all have it. At our core, we are all made of the same stuff, and are simply different expressions of those basic building blocks.

Maybe, just maybe, if we could see each other as such, then we would understand the true impact of the skillful and unskillful ways we use to meet our human needs. And then we could take one step further to understand how our beliefs and societal structures are created to serve these needs, and truthfully evaluate which ones affirm life, and which ones create further subjugation and separation between groups.

Maybe we could even learn to see how the planet itself is a living, breathing organism that gives rise to all that we see and know. We are all part of something far greater than our human minds could ever comprehend. Tuning in to the ever-present “me” is the opening through which authentic connection and healing becomes possible. Healing the planet and our human condition is attainable, but will take a concerted effort by a critical mass of people to achieve. The good news is, that critical mass requires only a small percentage of the population, so we may already be much further along than we think.

If we are to truly stand together, then we must learn to recognize and honor the common threads that tie us together, which are far more deeply rooted than those forces that serve to tear us apart. In the immortal words of one of my all-time favorites, “You may say I’m a dreamer…” All I ask is that you not let me be the only one.

Stand united with me.

Peter Buecker, MD is a recently retired, Board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon turned positive life transformation specialist.  His writing, speaking, and teaching is informed by his academic research, consulting and coaching work, and most importantly, his own personal life transformation experience.  He is the father of two amazing girls, and resides in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.