All Together, We Are One
I know, psychologists have a reputation for “kumbaya” talk. I guess I am guilty as charged!
But what do I mean by “All together, we are one?”
When I was a graduate student in psychology, I was impressed by the work of Harry Stack Sullivan, the father of interpersonal psychiatry. He liked to say, “We are all more similar than different.” He was more interested in the commonalities of human experience than our differences.
Our culture, however, is highly focused on what makes each person unique. We all like to see ourselves as special and individual. Of course we are all unique in some aspects. But we all have the same sense apparatus, internal organs, and the ability to acquire language. Our bodies and minds work in the same way. We are all of the same species.
We have many of the same struggles too. We grow up in families, of one kind or another. We have to provide for the same physical needs, whether we are born in Calcutta or Seattle. Of course, the circumstances of our birth have a huge impact on the trajectory of our life. Children of a street urchin in Calcutta will have a completely different life than my daughters. These circumstances define our lives more thoroughly than our personality or unique set of talents.
But when we focus on our common experiences and aspirations—our mutual desire for happiness, health, and wellbeing, we recognize that we are one. Our differences fade into the background, while our similarities come to the fore. This provides the soil for connecting with each other. This helps us move towards greater harmony, or oneness.
Some years ago I went to a conference on working with children. The presenter described a study in a school district, where the superintendent evaluated two elementary schools, each with similar demographics and resources. Yet one school had much higher test scores than the other! They wanted to know why. They could only find one difference. At the school with high scores, the principal stood at the front door of the school every morning and greeted every child by name as they started school each day! She connected with every student, every day and it made a difference.
After that conference, I decided to do the same thing at my work. Every morning when I arrive at work, I go into every office with an open door and greet every staff person. And at the end of the day, when I am leaving, I do the same thing. I look into the eyes of each person and connect with them. It has become my daily ritual. I believe that it has an impact on the environment of my office. I believe that this small act has a ripple effect.
It is not uncommon that leaders of the world, who find themselves at odds with each other, will have a “breakthrough” in their negotiations when they stop discussing the contentious issue at hand and get to know each other as people. They start to discover what they have in common. They learn how the other person thinks. They find out about each other’s life experiences. And, without really understanding why, they find a path that they can walk together. This “coming together” is a bit mysterious and hard to understand—but it happens.
We don’t have to be leaders of the world to connect with each other every day. Make sure that you connect with your family—when you greet your partner, give him or her a hug and a hello. Turn off your “automatic pilot.” When you walk into work, connect with everyone at least once a day. Take a moment to be really present when you gaze into their eyes.
You will discover that indeed, we are one.
What do you think?