At the April fundraiser, a volunteer – and a true fool in all the best ways – laid out a box of doughnuts in front of a group of fifth grade boys. Before it began, it was too late. By the time I intervened, there remained but one half of a pink speckled doughnut – the kind that no ever takes seriously. Meanwhile, the volunteer and I witnessed a solid example of every-boy-for-himself. Only the smallest kid, Rodney, got a cut on his forehead caused when bigger boy, Alex, shoved him into a row of chairs.
Not one of these boys lacked for food. A couple of the guys were fat by any definition. And, I wish I could say that this kind of thing happened only once. Quite the opposite. Dangle a carrot of any kind and look out! An objective observer could rightly have surmised that the boys were angling for the last doughnut on Earth.
Where do these panicked, self-serving reactions come from? Trampling incidents when stores open their doors, injuries incurred when pizza gets plopped down at a community meeting – I have a good friend whose big brother stabbed his hand with a fork when the younger one beat him to the bowl of pasta. Never mind that their mother had made enough for nine.
Up ahead – and not way in the distance – is a time when this reactive “I” impulse will have to go. When we talk about food-chain issues the case is clear, but the impulse penetrates all kinds of interactions – and leaves its nasty mark. So, we need to shift to “we”, figure out the implications, and start practicing.
I am not dreaming here. Every-man-for-himself comes out of primal fear. If I get shorted, I will die. Deep, automatic, non-verbal. Also, it’s fair to note that no one wants to get used, blamed, or made to carry any more weight than one’s own.Self-serving antics often get re-cast as standing up for one’s self – as in these two examples:
I work with a teacher who makes sure that she leaves meetings at the contractual ending time. Even if one of her colleagues is in mid-sentence on an important point, she exits. She views her adherence to this schedule as an exercise of her contractual rights. She will not be used or taken advantage of by an unjust and unfair system. She presents “I-over-all” as bravery.
On an elevator, we descended from the 23rd floor to the lobby level. Individuals kept jamming in. With each new body, the challenge to avoid contact, avert eyes, and use less oxygen increased. No speaking on this elevator. If you failed to press the button for your floor, then you’d have to ride it out. I could feel the body-directive: must-not-touch. . must-not-touch.
Everywhere where we come together in body, we have to come together in spirit as well. Compare, at least, what the “we” can offer over the “I”. What about if the elevator broke? And what might happen to the teacher if she surrendered and let herself come in contact with her colleagues? With me?
That fear that someone will put one over on me lives in a part of the mind where rodents go. Way in the back where next to fear and reactivity. The same place where fighting and flying live. In me, this place is an old friend, cousin to my animal brain. If I stay here, it makes my days endless and harsh. I want it to be different this time around, even if only once. How can I make that happen?