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“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
There are forces in life that divide and separate us. Race, class, religion, income inequality, and many other designations categorize and label people and their life experiences. Because of these divisions, our understanding of each other suffers. As a result, we isolate and fail to see the connections that we all share. Comparison and competition also divide people. Children learn to compete and compare very early. There is a place for competition, and it is commonplace for people to compare. Without checks and balances, competition and comparison become a cancer that eats away at the fibers of life that connect and create community. Forcefully, the energy of competition forges a zero-sum mentality of winners and losers, haves and have-nots, and us versus them. When the emphasis on comparison and competition becomes imbalanced, the spirit of cooperation shrinks.
Feelings are the network that connects people. Sadness, loneliness, fear, and insecurity bond the wealthy to the poor. Only when we focus attention on our different conditions do we separate. We become judgmental which isolates us. Certainly, inequities must be discussed and remedied. We are more likely to create a resolution when we can find a common thread that weaves our hearts together. Emotional experience is the tapestry that weaves the hearts of us all together as one. Oppression, suffering, and struggle are common stuff that make up life for everyone.
Everyone suffers defeat. We all experience disappointment when things do not turn out the way we hoped. Like a river, there is ebb and flow in life. When defeat and disappointment are minimized or ignored, it fractures the spirit of the community. We begin to pretend that life is different than it is. We hide the hurt and pain and begin to separate from others who we think are successful. Our failures begin to magnify. We conceal our pain, and loneliness intensifies.
Study the following consideration:
Listen: Take a deep breath and slow the frenzy of life. Take time to focus on listening to another’s plight and circumstance. Don’t offer suggestions for solutions. Just walk alongside and identify with the life experiences shared with another. Contemplate being in their shoes with their perspective. Avoid judgment, and just be with the other person. Practice being in their skin the best you can. Sit with the discomfort of not knowing a resolution and feel the burden of another. Healing happens through the connection of feelings, not through cold rapped-out counsel of what to do next.
Feel before you try to fix: The emotions that come with uncertainty are scary. There is a compulsion to rush toward fixing a problem shared by another. It is easier to argue about how to solve the problem of poverty in the world than to sit with those who suffer and experience overwhelming feelings of loss of power, food insecurity, and life. The deeper we connect with the emotions of those who suffer, the clearer a solution will arise on the horizon. When counseling someone suffering from addiction, it is helpful and healing to simply sit with the feelings of desperation and loss. It is tempting to want to immediately set up a recovery program to fix and rebuild a healthy life. Taking time to feel the emotions that an addict experiences can easily get lost in the chaos that is presented. However, it is healing to sit with the groan and the moan of emotional pain.
Bond through Identification: It takes courage to identify with someone who suffers in ways that scare you. It means you must crawl inside their shoes and walk through what they have experienced. Emotionally, this takes hard work. Others’ behavior can feel repelling and disgusting. It is much easier to judge and label people. Addictive behavior can be this way. When people relate to an addict with pronouns like “they” or “this population” it can create distance from the individual. Yet, the essence of being an addict is “wanting what I want when I want it”. Everybody knows what this experience is like. An addict is simply powerless to stop the compulsion without help.
For the past 27 years, I have treated sex offender behavior. I can honestly say that I have never listened to a story of sex-offending behavior that I could not relate to. It is not because I have struggled with wanting to sexually offend someone or that I can relate to a particular sadistic offense. Rather, it is because I know what it is like to want what I want when I want it. So can you. Every sex offender story that I have heard included a need for control. Everyone can relate to this need. The capacity to identify lies within each of us. In the field of treatment of sex addiction behavior, there has been a stronger need to define the difference between sex offending and sex addiction. Of course, there are differences between pathologies. However, I have experienced more healing with clients through identifying likenesses than underscoring differences. While being a sex addict does not necessarily mean that you will break the law through child molestation or sexual assault. It is an offending behavior. Partners of sex addicts will substantiate this reality. Bonding through identification means that you are willing to connect through common shared brokenness.
We all share the same river. It flows beneath us and through us. When we connect to the whole of life, it has the power to soften and open our hearts to each other. We may speak different languages, and live very different lives, but when the river swells through brokenness and struggle it pulls us toward each other. May we never forget the power of connection through common shared brokenness.