Oct2019: The “Me” Story and the “We” Story

by Brad on September 29, 2019

“A healthy social life is found only when, in the mirror of each soul, the whole community    finds its reflection, and when, in the whole community, the virtue of each one is living.”  – Rudolph Steiner

Everywhere in nature – including us! – survival and sustainability depend on cooperation and collaboration. Nothing happens alone, or in isolation. Nature transforms the “me” story of the individual into a “we” story of the ecosystem, by creating adaptive and resilient communities, systems of order built around a common thread.

And everywhere in nature – except us! – the “me” story and “we” story merge seamlessly together, uh, naturally. A hawk knows how to be a hawk. A tree knows how to be a tree. The hawk is part of a forest community. The forest is part of what it means to be a hawk. Through connectedness and community, both hawk and forest are made more.

There’s a paradox here – for us. On one hand, we’re taught that the “me” story is what life is all about – work hard, get things right, control the way life goes, be responsible for self. Yet we then turn around and label the focus on the individual as selfish. On the other hand, everyday reality favors the “we” story; we live our lives “in relationship” … whether with family, friends, work teams, church or even yoga classes. Yet we then turn around and shun community, claiming we’re left vulnerable. So, we’re wired for both individual uniqueness and connection through community, yet we embrace neither with effectiveness or grace. No doubt because we fall well short of embodying a strong sense of “me” (the authentic self), we’re then afraid to fully embody our sense of connectedness with others. Perhaps we fear giving away the tenuous hold we think we have on life.

Nature suffers no such confusion. In nature, embodying what’s unique about each species leads to cooperation. When we step into the world each day, it leads to competition. Why is the “human” story so different from the “nature” story, and what can we learn here? Each of us is unique; when we are in touch with, and honor, the authentic self inside us, we bring the beauty of that uniqueness to the world. It’s what allows the communities we join to become bigger than the sum of their parts. But if we’ve not yet aligned our selves with our own unique truth, we tend instead to live from our apparent “cultural obsession” of going along with the thinking of others. In thereby denying our authentic self, we bring what’s missing in us, not what’s so wonderfully unique and special in us, to the communities we join. This not only robs us of our own energy (to defend a false self) but robs communities of their effectiveness, too, because we’re looking to the community to provide what’s missing. In this process, we end up blaming life, and others, for the struggle life has become. It’s a bad recipe.

This is why I lean so heavily on the “me” story in my writing. It’s not to deny or ignore the value of connectedness and community, but rather to emphasize the significance of bringing a full and complete self to life and its communities. Healthy communities are made up of people with healthy “me” stories. This is how communities become more than either could be alone. (Communities made up of less-than-healthy “me” stories are better thought of as support groups … designed and intended to help people find and rebuild those missing pieces.)

By holding a collective vision of what’s possible, communities help to focus energy, which allows both individual and community to become more. By helping to reinforce who we are together, communities reinforce who we are as individuals at the same time. It’s about interdependence. Only a complete, healthy “me” can fully embrace this way of living. Community building like this offers a far more effecting strategy for living authentically and making a difference than the more pervasive strategies of competition, greed and control. Healthy communities encourage creative genius; command-and-control systems encourage only compliance.

Historical figures we hold in high regard for their strength and contribution were deeply connected to community as well. Example: Thoreau may stand as an icon of individualist spirit, living as he did in a cabin at Walden Pond. But it wasn’t all that long a walk into town, where he often had dinner with his mother. Deeply “both.”

 

Exercise:  Your “me” story: Over the course of each day (the course of your entire life, too), you create, live and tell a story, a story woven from threads of your life experience and consciousness. When your stories are congruent, you experience integrity. Review each day through the lens of story. What story did you live? What story did you tell? Do you tell the same story everywhere? Do you believe your story? What’s the story you’re creating about how tomorrow will be for you? How does your “tomorrow” story influence the way tomorrow turns out?

Your “we” story: Think about communities to which you belong – friends, families, work teams, church, or yes, even yoga classes. How does your connection to something bigger help serve the world? How does the whole then contribute to yourgrowth? How does connection with others create a “spiral of possibility” around you, one that makes your contribution in the world far greater than you could possibly make alone? Stepping further back, what’s your unique place in the universe? How do you speak to this – with yourself, others, in community?

Now review your connection with each community through the lens of dialogue. A dialogue is a two-way, reciprocal conversation based in mutual reverence and respect, with an intention that both learn and grow. Whether community is work, family, service or fun, name the common thread/purpose the community stands for. Notice if the conversations of this community fit the above definition of dialogue. Do they support or enhance the common purpose you’ve identified? What does the community gain by your presence? What do you gain by belonging? What does either lose? Does the community completely accept you for who you are, thereby empowering you to be your best, unique self? Does it do the same with others? Do you accept others completely and empower them to be their best, too? These are heavy questions. Not even the most thriving communities always fit these ideals. Yet pondering these questions helps you understand yourself in new ways, and helps you understand how mutually-enhancing your communities may be (or not). By the way, if they don’t pass, you’re free to release membership, and choose a path that makes your life work better instead.

Original cultures knew all this well. Perhaps because they had no written language, community was the carrier of culture, story was the teacher, and experiences of nature wove the tapestry from which stories unfolded. Story guided individuals to know they were part of something bigger, and thereby develop both a strong sense of self and a commitment to the well-being of the whole. This reverent and reciprocal relationship with nature was not only a way of life but also a system of faith, a contributor to their sustainability.

 

Life lessons from nature: As noted in this article’s introduction, everywhere in nature, survival and sustainability depend on cooperation and collaboration. Nature transforms the “me” story of the individual into a “we” story of the ecosystem, by creating adaptive and resilient communities, systems of order built around a common thread. Here’s an example:

For at more than six months each year, the tundra of the Canadian Arctic is a study in white: a flat, generally featureless land covered with snow, under leaden skies, wind chill adding to its austerity and hostility. Above the latitude of the tree line, it’s often difficult to know where land stops and sky begins. On some days, it’s downright impossible. Of seven bird species living here year-round, only the raven is black. If snow arrives late one year, the now-white willow ptarmigan (a quail relative) and arctic fox are easy targets for predators. This is the community of the tundra, the ecosystem of the far north. It holds together around a common theme – adaption to extremes. For example, polar bears overheat 13 times as fast as humans at a walking pace, serving them well here but not at temperatures above freezing. Because the growing season is too short for tress to produce seeds, the last scrubby trees here “reproduce” by sending branches into the earth to re-emerge as new “trees.” To share time and space with those who call this place home evokes a sense of wonder and awe at the miracle of nature’s communities. Yet every aspect of this community follows the same principles as do other communities – vastly different manifestations, a single set of principles at work.

 

Book of the month: Journey of the Universe, by Brian Swimme & Mary Evelyn Tucker. I regard Brian Swimme as both a powerful storyteller and a great thinker of our time. Yes, the universe as story, but not as a science text. In an approachable way, it weaves together all we know about our world … science, nature, ancient tradition, original cultures, modern thought. It masterfully integrates the “me” story with the “we” story – into one of creativity, connection and opportunity. A beautiful way to see your place in a world that’s so much bigger than you’ve ever imagined. And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.

 

Download October 2019 pdf

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Julie Fraser October 6, 2019 at 7:56 pm

Thank you Brad! As always your wisdom touches me and comes at a perfect time. Envisioning what’s next – yet again – in this Me and We context is fantastic! Much love and looking forward to the book’s arrival!

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