Clap on three
The other day I attended a professional development workshop. At the beginning, the facilitator started with a simple game where she would count to three and everyone in the room was supposed to clap on three. It was entertaining and illustrative to experience how difficult it was to get a room full of people to simply clap on the count of three. Some weren’t sure if we were supposed to clap right when she said three or right after. Some kept waiting for the trick or the twist. Some just followed along and clapped after they heard everyone else clap.
It was a simple illustration to me of how difficult it is to align ourselves in unity around the most basic of concepts. No wonder it’s so extremely difficult to align ourselves around deeply felt issues that relate to our identity, livelihood and even survival.
On Monday the first total eclipse took place in North America in 38 years. I live a few hours drive from the path of totality and many I know drove to see it. I had to work so here in my city I was able to see the partial eclipse with about 95% coverage. It was fascinating to see the change of light as the moon began to cover the sun. A haziness began and then a somewhat surreal feeling took hold. Some of the strangeness of the moment came from just the sight of many of my co-workers gathered outside waiting and chatting. Across the street in a small park, another whole group of people also gathered, staring up at the sky while wearing funny glasses.
A strange unity
I was struck in the moment by the strange unity created by a moment of natural phenomenon. People stopped in their usual daily pursuits to view a common event that is outside of their realm of usual. While that’s one way to find unity, large scale events can bring people together, there’s rarely any long term impact. While joined in the moment there’s no long term learning, growing or the hard work of trust building. It’s just the false sense of shared space in the moment. For an instance, we can clap in rhythm, but in the next moment our rhythms have shifted back to what we typically do and the moment is gone.
The partial eclipse
When I think about these two examples of creating unity – the difficulty of just aligning expectations for a simple clap and the false unity of a shared experience – it illustrates the complexity of creating social change. How much more difficult is it to align individuals and even whole groups to agree to a shared direction or purpose? A final observation I made during the eclipse – at my location, the moon covered the sun at about 95%. As we waited for the height of the eclipse there was an expectation that the light would get significantly darker. But in reality, it never looked darker than a cloudy day. Just 5 % of the sun for those few minutes was enough to continue the light for the afternoon.
Perhaps when we seek unity and understanding with others we are similarly looking for perfect alignment. Desiring a total acceptance of our views before we can believe the other person deserving of acceptance. But maybe we need to look for the partial eclipses in our life realizing that total eclipses are usually a once in a lifetime experience.
Author: Julie Martinez