We each have 206 bones in our bodies.
Regardless of race, color, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, health, language, religion, national origin, political persuasion, wealth, or any other label you care to apply, you get 206 bones.
Our biggest bone is the femur or thighbone. In the average adult male it’s about 48 centimeters or 19 inches long and can support up to thirty times the weight of an adult. Our smallest bone is the stapes, one of three tiny bones in the middle ear. It’s about five millimeters, or less than a quarter of an inch long and you could crush it with your pinkie.
Every one of those 206 bones matters a great deal and plays a vital role in holding you up and moving you about. But if you should fall down and break one of your bones, it’s suddenly going to matter a whole lot more than the others.
All the others are just fine, thank you. It’s the broken one that needs the attention right now.
In the conversation and debate about whose lives matter, it’s obvious, even “self-evident” to use the words of the Declaration of Independence, that every single life is precious. But right now, and for far too long, there are some very particular lives that are broken and in desperate need of all our attention.
Fortunately, your body is smart enough to know that there’s no benefit, and a great deal of suffering to be had, if that one bone were to remain broken. It’s a ludicrous notion to imagine the other bones deciding that they’re all better off if your left arm remained permanently fractured. Even more ridiculous is the idea of the big strong bones ganging up on the smaller, weaker ones.
If you have an injury or infection your body responds in an intelligent way. Blood rushes to the area to provide healing oxygen and nutrients. The antibodies and white blood cells immediately attack the disease. Your immune system kicks in to rid itself of the invaders and the body heals itself.
The body does not fight against itself. On the odd occasion that it does, we call that cancer and do everything in our power to remove the abnormal cells and bring the self-destructive process to an end.
If only we had the instinctive intelligence of our bodies.
We’re all familiar with the ‘fight or flight’ response to fear. It’s built into our biology and it was enormously useful when saber-tooth tigers were attacking. In today’s world, however, the occasions when we’re exposed to immediate, life-threatening danger are extremely rare.
And so we imagine and make up our fears. Fears that I will somehow be diminished, hurt or even killed by that person who is ‘other’ than me. We call it xenophobia: the irrational fear of others who are different. And behind that particular fear lies virtually all aggression, anger, violence, oppression and hate.
In the absence of saber-tooth tigers we continue to treat anything and anyone who isn’t like us as a threat. The threat isn’t real, it’s merely perceived or imagined. But because that other person looks or sounds different, is wearing different clothes or comes from the other side of an imaginary border, we convince ourselves that we’re threatened and must respond.
And so, we fight or flee.
The fight response is obvious – we’re seeing it around the globe daily. The flight response is just as obvious – you run back to your own familiar place, close and bar the door, build walls at your borders and prohibit those ‘others’ from entering.
The fear of the ‘other’ results from focusing on the differences between us. You’re not like me.
We can leave the fear behind when we recognize the similarities, the things we have in common.
Astronauts returning to Earth frequently report an experience that has come to be known as the ‘Overview Effect.’ First mentioned by Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweikart, it’s a cognitive shift in awareness that takes place while viewing the Earth from outer space.
Ian O'Neill, a science writer on space says, “From space, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this ‘pale blue dot’ becomes both obvious and imperative.”
Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell had his life completely changed by the experience. O’Neill writes that Mitchell experienced, “a profound sense of connectedness, with a feeling of bliss and timelessness. He became profoundly aware that each and every atom in the Universe was connected in some way, and on seeing Earth from space he had an understanding that all the humans, animals and systems were a part of the same thing, a synergistic whole.”
Humanity has moved on from saber-tooth tigers and our primitive fear responses are guilty of far more harm than good.
So, what if, instead of fight or flight, we adopted a third option in the face of fear? What if our first response was to pause, even for a moment, to listen? To learn. To get to know and investigate how similar we are to the ‘other.’
What if our choices were fight, flight or unite?