Our nation seems to be pulling apart around so many issues. Whether it is the political process, racial divides, sexual orientation, rich/poor or other hot points, we seem to be constantly taking sides and battling the “others.”
As I listened to the president talk about all this divide and suggesting that we are not that separated, I wondered what is underlying all this struggle. Are we more connected or more separated?
What I see, is that we keep creating separation because of a fundamental way we look at the world around us. We have been taught to value what is rare and unique, and told that the common and ordinary is boring and has less worth. We see this from the way we celebrate the talent of entertainers, athletes, public figures and personal beauty to jewelry, homes, cars and other status symbols. This constant focus on the “rare” has turned our actual life upside down.
What is true on this Earth is that what is most common is most valuable. Think about it for a moment. The most common element on the face of the Earth is air. It blankets the earth for several miles up and protects us from the damaging rays of the sun. Beyond that, how long would we live if something happened and the air disappeared? Maybe a few minutes?
Water is the second most common thing. About 70 percent of the surface is covered by water and it is a major controller of our weather. How long do we live without water on this planet? Maybe a few days?
Finally, the third most common is the ground we live on. It is the source of support for plants and land animals. It is what is necessary for growing food. How long would we last without this land? Maybe a few months/years?
That which is most common is by far the most valuable to life itself. But, we have tuned that out in favor of pursuit of the rare. In doing that, we have created far too much separation. We see differences before we see sameness. We compare for unique worth, versus common support. We create walls before we build bridges. We take for granted the common and miss opportunities all the time.
When I worked with various companies, each at first would tell me how they are different, and yet I saw only the commonality to other companies. When I first worked with hospitals, the bosses claimed, “We are not factories,” that they were different. There were many commonalities. On and on to every client, where they wanted to claim uniqueness, and I saw commonality. To constantly make yourself or your organization unique creates barriers to learning from others. I had to overcome that barrier to show how, at the essence, work, organizations and especially people have far more in common than they have differences.
So the question becomes for each of us: Do you seek to find and value what is common in those who are different than you? It is easy to find the common in the group we associate with, that is usually why we are attracted to them. Can you see the common connection with those who disagree with you? This may be more difficult, but it is there.
Learning to see the common connections in all people is the challenge. We are in this together, but far too often we lose sight of what that is and only focus on the differences.
Columbus retiree Tom Lane is a community columnist and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. He served as a consultant to a number of companies in his career. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.