Learning to Share

Michael Onsando
10 September ,2019

Questioner: How are we to treat others?

Ramana Maharshi: There are no others.

“We recognize someone as a stranger, rather than failing to recognize them.”

  • Sara Ahmed

If there is anything that stokes the fuel of divisive politics it is this idea of the other. This creating a caricature of people who don’t identify the same as you do. What it does is it takes the way in which the things we are afraid of manifest and use them against us. This phenomenon is more easily known as stoking our fears.

I find the word stoke most appropriate because fear is like a fire. The face of fear is not tears and hiding but violence. And like a fire, fear catches on. Especially in this shareable world where we are all on the Internet sharing our experiences and perspectives it’s easy for fear to catch on and spread itself around. It becomes even easier when we fail to see the human on the other side of any conversation and leave ourselves susceptible to reducing people to a batch of traits that we have read somewhere.

In an eloquent thread on the recent reporting on xenophobic attacks in South Africa, Sho Majodzi outlines a few key truths:

“The reason we have bad leaders is because we want bad answers. We want people to say “foreign nationals are completely innocent” or to say “foreign nationals are completely responsible for crime.” We get dishonest leaders because we want things to be black and white and the truth very seldom is. Good leaders would require us to be more nuanced. Good leaders would require us to understand that more than one thing can be true at once. And that some things can be partially true. But good leaders are not successful because we don’t want the nuanced, complex and multidimensional truth. It’s not neat and easy to consume or attack. This is why we either get inactive leaders or populists.”

I’ve written about truths and histories here before. About how a lot of issues arise not through manipulation and falsehoods but because two or more things, known to be true, are held in opposition to each other rather than as parts of the whole. When this happens we eliminate the needs and experiences of the people around us and focus on keeping our selves unharmed. When we ground ourselves firmly and absolutely in our own perspectives we give those around us an impossible decision. Either to set their own experiences aside and live in a world that has been created by our fears (often to their own detriment) or to stand firm in their own ways of seeing and brace for impact.

“And towards this end, knowledge itself becomes a trap. Just because you are aware of oppression and the many ways in which it works doesn’t mean you have analysed the agreements you had made with the world. And because the agreements you have are based on factors rooted in this same world you are critiquing then how much of that world exists within you? Which of your decisions, attitudes, mannerisms and biases were decided for you – do they align with who you decided you want to be?”

I’d like to take this argument a step further and ask – how many times do you refuse to see the forest of truth for the trees? We’ve heard the age old advice – avoid fake news. But what seems to be even more urgent is to now avoid news that you agree with too deeply. News that has been tailored to confirm and affirm everything that you believe in. When this happens you must ask yourself “why?” “What am I failing to see? What other perspective exists to this story?”

And it’s even more urgent now. With big data companies like Cambridge analytica tearing through the data to create echo chambers we need to be able to sift through for ourselves. To place the burden on the people who create the fake news is to take the power out of our own hands. We must seek to read and understand things and people we disagree with. To see where they are coming from and what their fears are made of.  It’s only with this nuanced approach will we be able to elect the leaders we need and begin the work to creating a truly shareable world.

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