As of August 2017, there are 7.5 billion people on the planet. This number is so huge that it’s almost hard to fathom. 7.5 billion souls, dreams, loves, and losses exist on this marvelous planet.
Each distinct, yet connected— together we travel through space on a tiny sphere abundant with the rare necessities that sustain human life. We float along seeing ourselves as individuals, connected to a few people by blood, a few more by love.
But to the strangers whose ideals feel so opposing to our own, we put up walls. We create barricades to block out bitterness and shun the idea that these “others” are connected to us. Even the most foreign of human beings, is still a human being— feeling, living, and trying to figure shit out.
There comes a time when we all realize we’re fundamentally alone.
I remember the moment I realized that I was separate from the world around me and all the people I knew. I was around 7 years old. Laying in bed one night, I stared at my own hand and at the starry night sky and felt unbearably small.
This process of discovering our own independence is one that all children go through around this age. At some point we all realize that we’re fundamentally on our own. It’s scary.
To see ourselves as alone is painfully real, yet it doesn’t embody the entirety of the truth— that we’re simultaneously interconnected and related.
Humans are strange creatures. We feel connected to one another through networks and our personal bubbles of friends and family, yet beyond those confines, we can hardly see anything else.
Imagine feeling the ups and downs of billions of people.
I never understood how my dad could read the newspaper every morning and watch the 6 o’clock news each night. The endless stories of war and desolation were so difficult for me to witness. They still are. Although adulthood sure knows how to numb a person.
The logical reason he could stay so well informed while still staying sane is that socially, we’re only capable of empathizing strongly with people that we know or feel connected to. Ignorance is bliss, and to a degree, it’s necessary. Imagine feeling the ups and downs of billions of people.
But here we are, in a political terrain fueled by division. There’s so much bad news that most of us learn how to shut it out. We may allow pinholes of awareness to shed light on our worldviews, but it’s typically when we have a personal connection to the problem at hand.
Here’s the thing— watching the news every night, while it may help us stay informed, doesn’t ignite compassion. Engaging with angry individuals over a divisive news article, doesn’t encourage anyone to change.
The only thing that creates more empathy is genuine human connection. Here lies the problem. While we’re more connected than ever before, we’re also lacking in real human interaction. Touch, conversation, eye contact, and basic social etiquette are all dissolving in a subway sea of cellphones— each absorbed in our own mini bubbles of confirmation bias.
There’s one thing we can all do right now to improve the state of the world and it has nothing to do with traditional activism.
Listen. It’s so simple. Empathy grows when we put our ego’s aside and honestly try to connect with the world around us. Holding each precious human life with the awareness that we all came from the same mysterious place. We’ve all got darkness as much as we have light and love. When we try to listen to the underlying heartbeat, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, we’re reminded of our intrinsic oneness.
What fuels division is fear. And yeah, we’ve all been raised and conditioned to live in a perpetual state of fear. Love is not the modus operandi for most of us, and there are reasons for that. But fear can only take us so far and lately it’s effects are amplified and fed by an ongoing war machine hungry for more of the same.
7.5 billion people, yet here we are, afraid of speaking out, lonelier than ever, worried we won’t be able to make a living doing what we love, and thinking we’re doomed. But fuck that.
What we have is 7.5 billion chances for connection, innovation, and transformation.
Each of us has the potential to change the world. Each of us has warm blood coursing through our veins. The capacity for steaming rage and placid calm. Lovers, family, friends, enemies, and a range of emotions that are impossible to put into words. We all have them. We’re all capable of reaching higher, as much as we’re capable of going to war and killing in the name of fear almighty.
By all means, condemn hatred, but listen to where it came from. Anger isn’t born from a void, it’s flames are fanned from a feeling of not being heard. To listen is not to condone, but it is to understand. The root of suffering won’t be dug up through beating the Earth, but through digging deeper.