“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” —Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864
When I die, I will probably be remembered for my physical and intellectual activities instead of my emotional and spiritual experiences. There are good reasons my obituary might highlight those dimensions of my life. I’m always bugging people to go biking, hiking, swimming, paddle-boarding etc. And, as a reader of this blog, you know that I spout off about one issue or another every week in my posts—there are now 130 essays available for public consumption.
The problem is that I would prefer to be remembered for the emotional and spiritual dimensions of my life. I want my obituary to tell stories about my relationships with my wife, my kids, my grandkids and my friends. And I want to leave a legacy of creating positive energy in the world.
Why am I starting this post with such a morbid wish? Because I want to point out how hard it is to achieve Balance in our lives and to be seen as balanced and unified by the people we care about.
Also, I want to suggest that the best path to healing the unbalanced perspectives and bitter divisiveness we are experiencing in the world starts with balancing our own lives and healing the divisions in ourselves.
Lincoln was unnervingly prescient with his predictions in 1864. We need to start somewhere and “inside” seems to me to be the most productive choice. In essence, this post is a plea for balance and Unity. Balance is defined as a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. Balance results in stability, equilibrium and being able to remain steady. Synonyms for balance include fairness, justice, impartiality, and egalitarianism. Think we need more of those?
In my experience, achieving balance among the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of our lives is a lifelong journey. Most of us have one dimension that defines who we are and dominates how we live our life. For example, some people are physically oriented which means identifying as an athlete or pursuing material acquisition or financial accumulation. Others are more intellectually oriented. These people tend to be academics, authors, artists, or researchers. Some people are emotionally oriented. These people are primarily focused on building relationships and leading active social lives. And a few people are more spiritually oriented which usually manifests in more contemplative, reflective lives involving compassionate service to others. It’s unusual to find people who manage to create a healthy balance among all four dimensions.
Early in my career, I was deeply involved in the Wellness movement.
In speeches around the country, I presented the idea that wellness was more than physical fitness, it also involved the “other three” dimensions of our lives. What I found was that my audiences were more interested in building biceps and eating nutritionally than building relationships and tapping into universal energy. I left the field and became an organizational consultant.
In organizations, the focus shifted from push-ups and protein to prosperity and profits.
I wanted to talk about vision, values, and healthy communities. Most clients were more interested in breakthrough ideas that would lead to stock appreciation and wealth creation. The emphasis was on intellectual creativity which would lead to the accumulation of physical assets—not a bad thing. Businesses are created to make money. I preferred, however, to talk about team collaboration in the pursuit of the greater good. Achieving an appropriate balance was always a challenge. You get the idea.
Fox news promotes its reporting as “fair and balanced,” but, in my mind, it’s completely unfair and unbalanced. I’m sure Fox watchers would say the same about MSNBC or the Racheal Maddow show. And that’s the problem. There are very few news sources who are really committed to fair, balanced, and impartially objective reporting. I would say the New York Times and PBS do the best job of presenting evidence-based, responsible perspectives on both sides of a given issue, but half of the country sees both of them as representing liberal, elite views. The questions are: How do we become more balanced in our lives and in our views?; and How can we create a greater sense of unity in the world?
Unity is defined as a condition of harmony and the quality and state of being made one.
Unity can be described as an entity that is a complex or systematic whole.
Notice the key words: Harmony, Oneness, Wholeness. Hmmm, those three words form an intriguing acronym: HOW. Yes, that’s HOW we experience unity—in Harmony, at One, and completely Whole.
Currently, we are not experiencing unity. Indeed, we are divided by class, race, politics, religion, region, ideology, and education. Add others if you wish.
Politics is just one example of how unbalanced and divisive commentary promotes distancing discord and hostility. Differing religious beliefs also cause families to drift apart as well. These differences in beliefs cause an underlying tension that dissipate family unity.
There are many other factors dividing us as well. Racial identities are the source of hateful speech and actions. Rapidly increasing income inequalities create an “us” and “them” mentality in which the rich exploit the poor and the poor despise the rich. We are even divided by region—there are the coastal elites, the rust belters, the southern red states, and Texas. We are divided by private schools, public schools, charter schools, home schools, and parochial schools.
The first questions I typically hear when I meet someone new are what do you, where did you grow up, and which school did you go to? After answering those three questions, I’ve been conveniently put in a box. No more questions required.
My tribe has been identified. It doesn’t matter if I don’t identify with the label or if my life experiences may represent a more multi-dimensional picture. Building bridges between these tribal divides and breaking out of these limiting labels are daunting tasks, but they are the challenges we must face if we want to heal as individuals, families, organizations, countries, and the world.
President Lincoln told us that a house divided against itself cannot stand.
In unity, there is strength; in balance, power. Disunity and imbalance lead to weakness and vulnerability.
In art, unity and balance are central principles artists use to create impact. According to Debra J. Dewitte and Ralph M. Larman in Gateways to Art,
“unity gives a work a certain oneness or cohesion. So powerful is the force of cohesive oneness that even a fragment of a work—for example, a broken piece of a ceramic pot—may have aesthetic unity.”
They suggest that artists give us a perception of wholeness sometimes known as gestalt. Balance is achieved in a work when the artist creates an appropriate combination of unity and variety.
Balance is based on an instinctive ability to discern symmetries and patterns in the world around us.
It seems to me that the lessons from art apply to all of us. In art, the key is to create balance and unity among different lines, colors, shapes, and textures. In life, the key is to create balance and unity among different races, religions, classes, and political perspectives.
I believe the place to start is inside ourselves. How balanced are we on the four dimensions of our lives and on our views of the world? How unified is our being? Do we act differently in different situations or do we have a fairly crystallized essence, consistently being who we are no matter what the circumstances?
For me the greatest unifying force common to all of humanity is that we are all facing the same existential problem—the ultimate terror of our own mortality.
That’s why I started this post with “when I die.” We are all in the same boat. We are all living on the same planet. We are all trying to achieve some level of balance in our lives. Why can’t we unite behind our common condition? I would love to promote more balance and unity so that poor Abe Lincoln can rest more easily in his grave. Wouldn’t you?