Before I begin writing, I’d like to take a moment to share this video of a story I’ve frequently encountered over the years.
It’s about the blind men and an elephant, which is commonly used as a fable for the relativism and subjectivity of truth – how our subjectivity is true but may not be total. But this last insight can mean so much more, and one of those things is something that’s essential to anyone wishing to be an effective and efficient agent of social change.
It’s about community.
In one of my first editorials for CSR Bookshelf, I mentioned the fact that gamechangers exist – thrive, even – in a community. The adage “no man is an island” takes even greater importance when it comes to this, especially when you consider that not everyone is open to change and some may even directly oppose those calling for some form of social change or development. We got each other’s back, and we need that.
Last night, one of my dihia’s friends, a dentist, and I were chatting. I had been asking her about the effectiveness of an electric toothbrush – we apparently both use one – and she said that she believes it is better. She hadn’t had her teeth cleaned in two years, but when she visited a fellow dentist to check up on her, the dentist told her to come back next year as there was nothing to be cleaned. (I envy that. But that’s another story.)
The fact that a dentist visited another dentist for dental concerns, for some reason, stuck in my head. Or that it’s not unheard of that doctors get sick, die even, and need fellow doctors to tend to them. I knew this long ago, just that I always overlooked it. Not last night.
We really were made by God to be interdependent.
Can a dentist check their own teeth the way they do patients? No. Can a surgeon operate on themself? No. Can a judge judge a case he’s in? No. Can a funeral director oversee their own funeral when it happens? Definitely not, unless they were a ghost. Can an educator check an exam they themself answered? No.
We definitely cannot survive alone. More importantly, interdependence causes us to cease thinking at the lowest or most basic level of things, and allows us to multiply exponentially our efforts. A force of “blue” meeting a force of “yellow” becomes a force of “green” – a result that’s not quite literally one and two pieced together, but is so, yet it’s also different and presents a whole new dimension to things.
In the story, the blind men each described one specific part of the elephant only. They are all correct in the sense that the elephant indeed has the parts they described, so each of them has proved independence by being able to contribute something that is real and meaningful. But pieced together, they get a whole picture of the elephant – a result that is greater than the sum of the individual parts. That is the result of interdependence – the collaboration of the effectiveness of several individuals producing something beyond themselves.
Especially in today’s age, where the world is getting smaller and information is at our fingertips (to the point that we run the risk of being over-connected), it does not do to become a figurative or literal sociopath. The beauty of life is that God gave us something unique and wonderful, and that we are enjoined to share this with others to make the world a better place even if it were just for one human being, a human being whose innate dignity never, ever deserves to be trampled on.
It is true that as pilgrims of faith, the only one we truly need is God. But God himself tells us in so many ways to build a community that lives out his basic commandments. In short, our dependence on God is also manifested by our interdependence on and with others, for we were created as a people – true, with each having their own individual and unique identity and dignity, but meant to be completed with others (and I’m not simply talking about two lovers uniting in God’s love). Not as billions of beings who simply happen to be in the same space and promote only self-interests.
Indeed, the gift of friendship and camaraderie is an oft-overlooked but very valuable one. I’d take that over material wealth any time. In fact, material wealth is all for nothing if it cannot be shared with and for others – for we are called not to store up our treasures on earth where they can decay and be stolen, but in heaven.
So, if you’re reading this, I want to ask you a favor. Think of at least one person in your life whom you feel you may have overlooked, unintentionally or otherwise. In some way, show them that you’re truly thankful for their time, their love… their being. Show them that you really care, “I may not always show it” be damned. Let the gift of love from God that is best manifested by being a tower of strength for others show and flow.