"The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking."
- Albert Einstein
In a commencement speech at Kenyon College, David Foster Wallace told the new graduates, "There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?""
"If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I'd ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious."
It's about learning to think, to question, to seek.
In our education system and our churches, we are told mostly what to think, not how to think. We are not taught how to properly question, because those who question are deemed heretics and communists, and our fear of what those in power and authority think of us is too great to lose. We are afraid of being vulnerable because we will be rejected. So we seek to convert everyone around us to our way of thinking, believing, and living.
I recently finished reading The Giver for the third or fourth time. The story takes place in a Utopian futuristic society in which there is no pain, no color, no sun, no differences, where everyone is placed in a job that serves the community, where no one questions their role or how it's decided. Jonas, an 11 year old who sometimes sees things others don't, is given the role of Giver. There is only one Giver in their society, a person who contains all the memories from all of their history before they went to Sameness, before they gave up colors in order to be the same, before they gave up love in order to have stability, before they gave up choice in order to save people from their "wrong" choices. The current Giver hands Jonas his memories, filling Jonas with color, and pain, and joy beyond anything he's ever experienced, and he has no one to talk with about these new experiences. "...how could you describe a hill and snow to someone who had never felt height or wind or that feathery, magical cold? ...what words could you use which would give another the experience of sunshine?"
The Giver explains, "Our people made that choice, the choice to go to Sameness. Before my time, before the previous time, back and back and back. We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with difference. We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others."
There is a challenge in community of seeking unity, but not uniformity. In the intentional community I live in, each of us tries in different ways to conform the others to ourselves. We want the people around us to believe like we do, think like we do, act like we do, perform as we do. We want Sameness, because we think that is being united; we think that is what is meant by being of "one heart and mind." We want sameness because it makes us feel secure in our own beliefs and actions.
I am often frustrated because that is an impossible expectation.
The seven of us in the community differ on nearly everything: gay rights, how to wash the dishes, the Divinity of Jesus, the steps to salvation, what to cook for dinner, how to engage in dialogue when angry, how to grocery shop, how to engage with our homeless neighbors, how to communicate with the Divine, the truth of different religions and lifestyles, etc etc etc.
We will NEVER agree. EVER.
But we choose to live together. We choose to be aware our differences and we choose to stay and figure out how to embrace and love one another in those differences.
We are learning how to reject sameness in the name of unity. Sameness is not unity. Sameness is conformity. And conformity has no room for real love.