March 18, 2015


I have written in several places about the “plague of the other”; how often, usually out of fear or suffering from a lack of self-confidence, we choose to see ourselves as separate from each other and as superior to “the other.”

In the book, “Everyday Bias,”* which develops the reality that we all possess implicit biases, I came across a metaphor by the author, Howard J. Ross, that I found extremely compelling in this regard. 

Here it is.
Many of us have seen the magnificent forests full of aspen trees that grow in large “stands” throughout the northern areas of North America.  The trees are extraordinary, ramrod straight, and often standing nearly one hundred feet tall.  There can be thousands of them in just one stand.  Still, we look at each of these trees and see it in its solitary magnificence.

But there is something interesting under the surface of these forests.  These trees are not at all separate.  Underneath the soil, they are connected by a common root system, and that makes each of these clusters of trees among the largest organisms on Earth.  A new tree grows because the root sends out a runner that then grows into another tree.  The largest of these is called “Pando” (Latin for “I spread”), and is located in the Fishlake National Forest in south-central Utah.  Pando covers more than 106 acres and has been estimated to collectively weigh almost seven thousand tons, making it the heaviest organism in the world.  It also is thought to be more than eighty thousand years old, making it one of the world’s oldest known living organisms.

And yet we see it as a lot of single trees.

The trees brings us to a perfect metaphor for we who are as human beings.  We look at the “other” as if he or she is separate from us.  We see the other group as a threat.  And yet, we are all deeply connected.   We share a common destiny on this planet.  We all seek pleasure and do our best to avoid pain.  We want what is best for our children and grandchildren.  All of us are the products of that which we have seen before.  And we are all (for the most part) unconscious about the “programming” that runs our thoughts and our lives.

We can transcend.  We can, through discipline, practice and awareness, find a new way to relate that honors our differences, yet also build upon our similarities.  While the potential for mass destruction looms broadly in the world and our global community expands, we are more and more invited to recognize, as R. Buckminster Fuller said, that “we are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully, nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common.  It has to be everybody or nobody.” 

That is the path before us.  It is indeed the “road less traveled” when we look at our common history.  But it is a road that is worth paving clear.

What could be a greater journey?
*”Everyday Bias, Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in our Daily Lives”


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