Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lessons from coincidence

It’s quite amazing when a number of coincidences or accidents occur, for which you get to be the fortunate witness. Even though the true fortune is when you’re able to relate them to each other and see why and how exactly they’re connected.
This one would not appear to be a fortunate occurrence at all at first, though.
Driving away from home to go to work on a recent morning, I recognized him right away. Attentively crossing the street, and limping.

It wasn’t the first time I gazed upon him. A few weeks back, he was also crossing the street at the exact same spot, but my father was the one driving, and neither of them was concentrating much. In what seemed to be half a second, my father gasped, hit the brakes hard, the tires gave a loud screech, we heard something bump the fender, and sitting on the passenger seat, I saw him slide to my side of the road, getting raked by the pavement till he hit the sidewalk.
My father parked the car and we went out to find him, but he was nowhere in sight. There was no obvious sign of injury too, no blood, nor lost parts. We looked around for a few minutes in hopes to find him and get him properly checked, but he had completely disappeared. We were distraught for a while afterwards, but that was the end of it, and I had honestly forgotten about him. Up until that morning.

A proud creature, with a gorgeous golden coat. He had his left leg curled up and kept it from touching the ground. He limped his way in front of my car, but held his head up, and almost seemed to have been smiling with that slightly curled mouth. He wasn’t alone too. He was accompanied by three others who surrounded him as he crossed the road. They stayed around him till he made it safely to the other side and exuded an attitude that would fit a minister’s bodyguards.
It was very strange, I felt a great deal of sadness to see that he was obviously injured, but was also comforted that it wasn’t fatal, and that he seemed to be in good… paws. That was one lucky dog.

Someone asked the anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978), “What is the first sign you look for, to tell you of an ancient civilization?”. The interviewer had in mind a tool or article of clothing. Ms. Mead surprised him by answering, a “healed femur”. When someone breaks a femur, they can’t survive to hunt, fish or escape enemies unless they have help from someone else. Thus, a healed femur indicates that someone else helped that person, rather than abandoning them and saving themselves. Isn’t that what philanthropy is all about? Healing femurs of one sort or another?
In fact, that golden dog’s pack was exhibiting one of the most important signs of civilization. They’re making sure he stays alive by helping him out and protecting him till he could stand on his own two feet again.

These dogs just might be more civilized than a lot of people alive in the world today.
Isn’t it funny how it’s been seeming like there’s so much hate, even over the tiniest of differences, and it’s been largely, and frightfully, on the rise almost everywhere in the world?
There’s this kind of casual, furious contempt that’s flowing between people beneath their conversations, dealings and actions. It’s hard to describe. It’s almost like people don’t think others have, or deserve, dignity. You can sense how much we’re constantly encouraged to be angry, anxious, stressed, or scared. The interactions feel weirdly dehumanized and disconnected. We’ve lost most meaning of “society”.

Maybe all that manufactured hate’s just a convenient way to keep us from doing what matters.
Have you heard about that Greek island where people “forget to die”?
On the island of Ikaria, more than being away from all the technological advancements, their side effects, and fast-paced city life, more than growing their own food, drinking their own home-made herbal teas regularly, sleeping well, and being relatively extremely active well into their old age… Its inhabitants are renowned to live to their 100’s because of the community and social structure they maintain.

They encourage each other to maintain their health, work their gardens, and keep healthy humanly ties. They are used to visiting each other, having their meals with each other, laughing together, dancing together, getting together to help whoever falls ill, and even raising their kids together. Without actively meaning to, they put each other in check with a number of subtly powerful, mutually enhancing factors of their society.
Billions get spent to persuade us that if we eat the right food and do the right workout, we’ll be healthier, lose weight and live longer, only to find that these purely individualistic strategies don’t work out too well in the end. Why? Because it’s difficult to change individual behaviors when community behaviors stay the same.

As the writer of the article on Ikaria put it quite well: “For people to adopt a healthful lifestyle, I have become convinced, they need to live in an ecosystem, so to speak, that makes it possible. As soon as you take culture, belonging, purpose or religion out of the picture, the foundation for long healthy lives collapses. The power of such an environment lies in the mutually reinforcing relationships among lots of small nudges and default choices.”
I guess what seeing that golden-coated dog and his loyal friends told me was: if there would be any real hope for our future, we need to start focusing on what really matters, lest we divide ourselves all the way to our own ruin.

Smart societies don’t polarize. They synthesize.


Originally published in The Clairvoyance Collective: 
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