I was listening to a podcast in the car on the way to work today, and I heard something that got me thinking.

“This isn’t rocket science…”

How many times have we heard people say that (have we said it ourselves) and then launch into some comparison with something they think should be simple. I heard it today and it struck me that we have things a little backwards. We say, “This isn’t rocket science” implying rocket science is the most difficult, complex, challenging thing that exists in our world.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not here to say rocket science is easy. No way. I’m not even going to pretend I know anything about it. But I would like to point out that we have actually figured it out. We’ve launched rockets, lots of rockets, many of them successfully. We’ve put men on the moon, sent people to explore space, put satellites in orbit, sent rovers to Mars. At this rate, I’d say we actually have a pretty great grasp on rocket science.

“This isn’t rocket science…” I’d like to take this moment to officially challenge that statement.

Hang with me for a minute folks.

I think there’s something much more difficult we’re all grappling with here, something we’re failing miserably at, something even the best and brightest minds shy away from because they just can’t even get close to solving the damn problem.

You know what we don’t have a great grasp on? Dealing with each other.

Let that thought just sink in for a second.

We have literally launched humans into space, mapped damn near every inch of this planet we’re living on, built machines and handheld devices that are all linked and talking to each other on this invisible network called the internet and somehow we can’t figure out how to have a civil conversation with someone we disagree with without resorting to yelling and name calling and spouting ridiculous vitriol toward another human simply because their opinions, ideas, or experiences don’t match up with our own.

We’ve all gone fucking mad.

Indulge me for a moment while I quote Gilmore Girls. (I know, it seems like my train of thought is taking a hard left turn right off the tracks here, but I promise there’s a point. Hang with me.) In Season 1, Lorelei says:

“I’m afraid once the heart is involved, it all comes out in moron.”

In the context of the show, Lorelei is giving some witty motherly advice to her daughter Rory who has just had one of those awkward early teenager moments where she totally embarrassed herself in front of the guy she’s crushing on. But I’ve always loved this quote because I think it carries much more weight than that. I love this quote because I thunk it speaks to the way we humans are ruled by our emotions, whether we really want to admit that or not.

We’re hearing so much lately about this colossal divide in our country, how we’ve managed to politic ourselves into what, to an alien observer, might resemble a good old-fashioned elementary school playground brawl. You know, the kind that tend to erupt after several long days of misunderstandings and snide comments and furtively whispered gossip set tempers boiling. Then, all at once, the rage and frustration and posturing spills over and spreads like wildfire.

See, we humans have this very natural sense of self-preservation. We instinctually want to protect ourselves, our families, the things that are important to us. And some of the things that are important to us are our beliefs, our passions, our individual experiences and ideas. If you think about it–those things are our whole world, our very existence. All of those things are what make you “you“.

So when someone or something comes along that disrupts our experience or questions our ideas or challenges our beliefs, it’s the most natural thing in the world to hear the alarm bells sound.

That’s what happens when there’s a glitch in our Matrix. Our flight or flight kicks in and we feel this gut-wrenching need to preserve ourselves and our reality. It’s all of us. It’s all we know.

And sometimes that fear of losing ourselves takes over. And that’s when we start blaming and labeling and fearing and hating those who are different. That’s when we lose what’s most important–our humanity–because we no longer see our fellow humans as humans. We see only the “other.”

So no, this isn’t rocket science. It’s a whole lot fucking harder than that, because we’ve got to admit that all of us are part of the problem, and all of us are also part of the solution. It takes work to change our patterns of thinking, to recognize those automatic fear responses. It takes courage to turn that scrutinizing lens on ourselves. And it takes a helluva lot of strength to admit we have been wrong.

But guess what? We’ve all been wrong. And we will continue to make mistakes and misjudgments until the day we die–that’s part of life. And I think the real reason any of us is here at all is to learn as much as we can, grow as much as we can, and spread around as much love and light as we can before it’s our time to go.

Walk into every situation and interaction with these two goals, and I think you’ve got a good chance of living a damn good life:

  1. Learn something new every day.
  2. Leave every situation (and any person involved) better than you found them.

Last month, in honor of MLK Day, I had the honor of attending a brunch at work and listening to a speech by Ruby Bridges who, at just 6-years-old, was the first black child to integrate an elementary school in her hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. It was an incredible speech, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. Compulsive note-taker that I am, I had more than four pages by the time Ruby finished, but my favorite was this:

“Evil doesn’t care what you look like, what you have, where you live. It just wants a chance to work through you. Evil just needs a place to be. The good news is–so does Good. The Good need to stand up and do something, say something. Let the Good work through you. Doesn’t matter what you look like; if you’re good, I want you on my team.”

There’s always going to be Good and Evil. It’s just the nature of things. But I truly believe there is far more Good than Evil in this world. The problem is, we’ve just allowed the Evil to take over and become the loudest voice in the room. And we’ve allowed ourselves to lose control and start shouting along. That’s what happens when we lose sight of our humanity, when we lose sight of each other. It happens when we fear and slander and name call and hate each other, focusing on the differences, forgetting that deep down at the very core, we’re actually all the same.

To look at an other and recognize them as human is to see our own humanity. To look at an other and celebrate their differences is to celebrate ourselves.

Maybe I’m a hopeless optimist, but I believe if we look long enough and try hard enough and reach out to each other with open minds and humble hearts, what we’ll find will be beautiful. Hell, I bet if we take a moment to stop, take a deep breath, and look around, we’ll see it already is.

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