My wife has been working her way through the old episodes of “The West Wing.” I wandered through the living room one day during the scene where the Democratic president and a Republican senator were in the basement of the White House eating ice cream.
It was kind of warming to watch two guys who disagreed on so much having a tough discussion, yet still be capable of acting with respect and civility toward each other. They were opponents, but not enemies.
Granted, the show aired twenty years ago, but it’s not hard to feel like we’ve slid a long way downhill from there, that we’ve elevated choosing sides and standing alone to an art form.
Or maybe not. Alexis De Tocqueville, a Frenchman who came to America a couple hundred years ago, wandered the country and then wrote a book about his observations that’s still being talked about. One of the things he noticed is that Americans tend to forget their larger community. “Americans,” he said, “are thrown back forever upon himself alone.” Maybe things aren’t that much worse now. After all, we fought a civil war, and during that war depictions of Abraham Lincoln as an ape were published in many newspapers.
Because I’ve been working my way through a mild case of covid, I haven’t left the farm in ten days. I’ve been reading even more than usual and stumbled across a newsletter written by an Anglican priest, Tish Harrison Warren. She wrote that she and a friend of hers like to celebrate something they call Interdependence Day.
Here’s the deal. I’m a guy who tries not to hold a grudge, and I’m fairly good at it. There is that one guy I don’t do business with anymore because he called me up and swore at me for half an hour for something I didn’t do. I don’t trash him to anyone, I just never do business with him. I doubt he notices, and I’m okay with that, too. But there are a lot of people out there I need, and I don’t agree politically with all of them. I can’t sort out the plumbers, carpenters, x-ray technicians and software designers based on who they voted for, and I shouldn’t, more for my sake than theirs.
We need social connections with our fellow humans, only marginally less than we need air.
I’m not exaggerating. According to a study done by Brigham Young University, being an active part of a community is a better determinant of health and longevity than smoking, drinking or eating habits. Let that sink in.
Another study showed that among primates - that’s us - the bigger the brain the larger the community size. They looked at hunter/gatherer societies from New Guinea to Greenland, Roman military units and Hutterite Colonies and the most efficient size across the board seems to be around 150 people.
I used to have arguments with a guy who was a bit of a survivalist. He talked about taking his wife and kids up into the mountains. He never agreed with me that was not a good idea – if you’re worried about that sort of thing it is far better to immerse yourself in a small place, so there are enough people to specialize in iron working and medicine, crops and construction.
This is a complicated world, but it probably always has been. We need each other. Perhaps, just perhaps, we should start with an acknowledgment that interdependency is a great place to begin.
Copyright 2022 Brent Olson