It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone to find out that I’m a bit of a retreat junkie. I love attending retreats, I love planning retreats for groups, I just love retreating! Usually when I run off on retreat, I insist on going alone. There’s something about the experiencing of “leavin it all behind,” that gives me a bit more perspective I think. Not bringing along the comfort of familiarity helps me to come away with a sense of how small I am. The reality that my career, my family, my problems, my one life, is but one of billions on earth, is more than a little humbling. Turns out I’m not that big of a deal, what a relief!
I feel the same way about traveling. Visiting somewhere else, whether it’s another city, another state, or another country, gives you a brief window into the lives of other people somewhere other than your current location on the earth. As it turns out, folks the next pond over are both the same and different from you, which is both comforting and a little disconcerting. It’s nice to know that people from here to Zimbabwe have the same problems I do. “Oh you worry about your kids, me too?!” “I also am concerned about the rising price of healthcare, go figure!” But along with the comfort of sameness, it sort of takes the wind out of your sails and hammers home the truth that, you’re really not all that special after all.
How dare I? Of course you are special! Each and every human being possesses a wonderful uniqueness, completely different than any other human on earth, which contributes to the fabric of humanity. So yes, we are all special. However, I think there is a danger in concentrating too much on what makes us different in that we begin to do something quite dreadful: we compare ourselves to others! Yuk. “Yes mom, I know my cousin Ann is a successful accountant, but you know I am an accomplished artist! And after all, doesn’t art offer something to society much more valuable than mathematics?” See what I mean?
It’s too easy to point out what makes people different than us. And it too easily slippery slopes into resentment and keeping up with the Jones’. Differences are easy to pick out. There is much more of a challenge present when you instead choose to look for similarities between yourself and those you perceive to be different than you. You open yourself up to so many things: to learning, to comraderies, to humility, to growth unlike any that you will experience elsewhere.
There is an equality between us in the reality that we are all different. And there is a sameness in the reality that we will never be the same. What a beautiful paradox! But depending on our attitude toward that paradox, we can either bring about more problems in our world, or we can bring about unity in our world.
I’m curious which attitude you choose in your daily life? Try not to worry too much about it though, it’s not worth the anxiety of analyzing too deeply. Because remember, you’re not that special anyways!
Though it’s probably worth considering the words of Mahatma Gandhi:
“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”