July 18–Blessings: How We Identify

My suitcase was wedged in with about a half dozen others right in front of the seat I took next to a woman whom I did not know.  When the train began to move, the entire stack of luggage shifted, and instinctively, both the woman next to me and I put one of our feet out to brace the stack.  She said to me, “I got it.”  When the train made a turn, the luggage tried to fall out into the aisle on my side and I used my other foot to stop that movement. Stop after stop, as the the train made its lurching movements, she and I managed to keep about 8 pieces of luggage snug and in place.  Then, she exited. For two more stops, I managed to keep the luggage in place, and then, a man from behind me got up to take his luggage and exit.  “Thank you for helping me out,” he said.

None of us knew each other. Each of us knew the ins and outs of travelling on a train with luggage.  No one asked for help.  Help was instinctively offered.  The trip was managed with little difficulty.  Working together for a common good works that way, sometimes. People involved see what needs to be done, and they respond out of a sense of experience and concern for each other.  Even when they don’t know each other.  This happens most often in the midst of crisis or unexpected dangers.  There are other times when it needs to happen, but doesn’t.

I searched for quotations on “working together” and these three were the first I saw.

Every successful individual knows that his or her achievement depends on a community of persons working together. Ironically, this quotation is attributed to the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, the leader of a congress which may go down in history as the most incapable of working together–even for the common good of our nation.

We’re all working together; that’s the secret. This quotation is attributed to Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart.  Walmart, without question, is a corporation that requires many human beings to work together.  Ironically, the story of Walmart is fraught with dynamics that take advantage of people caught in poverty including  employees who work full time at Walmart for less than a living wage; questionable labor and production plants across the world that make the items sold in Walmart, and the dislocation and closing of local mom and pop stores when a big box Walmart moves into a community–while the corporation records huge profits.

Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important. Many teachers find it ironic that Bill Gates, to whom this quotation is attributed, has been using his money and influence to re-write how schools do their work placing new and burdensome requirements on the very teachers that he deems the most important factor on working together in the classroom.

What is missing in each of these quotations about working together–all sentiments which at face value seem right and noble?  The sole ingredient of immediate identification with the experience itself–knowing what the other with whom I am working (or should be working) needs, wants, knows, for a good outcome–is missing.  When we lose a sense of identification with each other, our work together is very apt to become a manipulation of each other.  Which reminds me of one more piece of advice:

People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.  

The quotation is unattributed, but moves to the heart of basic social justice, of the common good, and of what it means to respect the basic dignity and worth of each person. It keeps in sight who the people are around us are and something of their experience.  We identify.

Bob Patrick

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