I’ve been disgusted with humanity in the last year or two; with individuals, with groups, with organizations. There have been some major collisions that have caused me to experience soul concussions, and then many other bumps in varying degrees of severity that, as with a concussion, have actually been more dangerous than the original blow.
I don’t like it. I don’t enjoy this way of thinking. Or feeling. I’m sad and disheartened and angry. This cynicism and despise is not me. I don’t want it. It’s so bad that I’ve even Googled: “How do I recover from a loss of faith in humanity?” It’s also bad enough that I’ve checked myself into ‘wellness rehab’ for a few days. I need to figure some things out. I need to be with my thoughts. I need to write, and pray, and sleep, and recover. Because one more soul blow in my current state could cause permanent damage.
And so, I’m alone at the lake. Hours in, I already see more clearly. “Let it go” is written on a coffee cup sitting on the counter. It contains the image of a balloon, and not Elsa’s face, but this does nothing to deter the earworm that has now taken hold. Regardless, it feels like a deeply spiritual invitation.
Let it go. Let what go?
My high idealism? My disgust? My anger? My disappointment? My hope? My dreams of kingdom come? My barely existent, and possibly ludicrous, belief that people are mostly good?
What do I need to let go of? To be happy. To be content. To have peace. To find solace. To be free. For.the.love!!
And if I let it go, does it then mean that the bad guys win? That I am wishy-washy? Lukewarm? That I’ve ceased caring? Stopped holding the line? That I’ve forfeited my integrity?
Occasionally in the past, I’ve been known to apply the failures of the one to the whole, as in, this man failed me…all men will fail me. This girl is mean…all girls are mean. This situation sucks…my whole life sucks.
This manner of thinking is not balanced, true, or healthy.
But the reverse, using the whole to characterize the one, is also problematic. And that’s where I’ve been lately. Humanity, on the whole, IS largely selfish, evil, flawed, broken, corrupt.
And I’ve allowed my feelings about humanity to affect my feelings about humans.
But when I come in close—when I focus on the one—I see individual beauty and goodness. Individuals who are trying to live with integrity in a broken system that doesn’t allow for integrity. Individuals who show up with flowers, even when they feel flowers are not enough; because they don’t know what else to do, but they want to do something. Individuals who send you a text or buy you a drink to remind you that they esteem you and love you. Individuals who, though perhaps not strong enough to fight off the danger on their own, come close to you, and gather ‘round, like a herd of elephants protecting their new mamas and babies, their weak, and their vulnerable.
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
I’ve often explained to my children, and to my students, that if you look for the hard stuff, you’ll find it. And if you look for the good stuff, you’ll find it. It’s a matter of where we lay our gaze. So right now, I’m working so hard to look closely at this good stuff. And these small moments, examined carefully under a magnifying glass, are what is healing me.
My temptation when things feel unjust or wrong is to hold my ground. I’d rather be alone than bend my values. But perhaps that high idealism is better fodder for movies, or poetry, or the dream of youth. It was a successful posture for the first half of my life, but now, it doesn’t seem viable. It no longer seems to be where health, safety, and wholeness abide. Maybe, as with most things, there are no binaries to be found here.
My idealism and my beliefs about what is Right (yes, capital R) have always been strengths of my character, and have guided my decisions. But what if, in the extreme, these qualities allow me to see only the drops that are dirty in a vast ocean that is not? Do I abandon what is mostly good because of the elements that are not?
Or do I invite my idealism to descend from its high horse, temper its rigid stance, and walk among the real-life broken things; to look into the eyes of so many individuals who are trying their best, doing what they can, and standing quietly in support, even if they cannot raise their voices.
However, context does matter. In a restaurant—where I am not necessarily connected to the people around me in an intimate way, and the storyline is a single thread—a fly in my wine, or lipstick on my glass (that isn’t mine) are grounds for complaint…and a new glass of wine, please. I’d rather not drink from the dirty glass of a stranger (Covid!). But when I’m in the home of someone I know; someone with whom I share a connection, and where there are many stories in addition to this one thread, I’d likely dump the wine into another glass (that I get from the cupboard myself), or wipe the lipstick off with my sleeve and keep on going. In my own home, I’ve fished many a fruit fly out of my wine, and then continued to enjoy the wine. If it’s good wine, I’m not wasting it.
Let’s extend this to real life. If there’s no connection in a particular context—whether work, or church, or a relationship—then lipstick on your glass can cause repulsion and disgust. Dump it out. New glass, please. But if there is intimacy, and the wine is really good, then remove the damn fly. Keep drinking. Keep enjoying.
There is so much that is hard right now: pandemic, infidelity, injustice, hatred, financial strain, illness, corruption, evil. All of these horrific things really do exist. And they really do influence our experience. BUT we can live as mavericks in the midst of these things. We may have no choice but to live in the Matrix, but we can be those who actively subvert it—by giving flowers, by offering forgiveness, by standing alongside. We mavericks are those who can exist within a broken system without necessarily (while definitely NOT) adhering to all, or even any, of its tenets.
We must all decide what is worth it, and what isn’t. It isn’t about sacrificing our integrity. It’s about choosing what we can and cannot live with.
Maybe it’s a great glass of wine, but in present company, it tastes like vinegar. Maybe it’s great wine in a dirty glass, but the connection is intimate, so you choose to enjoy it anyway. Drink it or dump it. There isn’t a wrong answer here. You don’t have to drink the wine. And you don’t have to not drink the wine. And you certainly don’t have to pour out the whole bottle because your lofty (and perhaps, romantic and unreasonable) ideals tell you you should (ahem…Ellen!).
In this season, I must look for goodness—the individual kindnesses, the small acts, the quiet conversations, and even the unsuccessful measures performed with good intentions—and allow these to flavour my perception of humanity. Not the few drops that are dirty.
I’ve decided to remove the fly and keep drinking, because I like the people I’m with. And it’s really great wine.
I love you, my friends.