This reflection is part of a collection of responses to the theme: “On Civility and Tolerance: What does theological education entail when worlds collide?”
by Alexander Solomon
Maybe things are fine just as they are – chaotic, uncertain, dynamic. Maybe our differences drive the beauty we strive for. Maybe this is the best of all possible worlds. Maybe the best of all possible worlds is continually blossoming before us. Maybe difference is necessary – maybe difference drives the chaos, the progress from which we ourselves bloom. The force through which the green fuse drives the flower. The flower would not need such a force, and the force would not express itself as such through the flower lest there be asymmetry – lack of equilibrium – a need to be fulfilled – a pain – an emptiness – a void. Without the great Ananke, the great Goddess of Necessity, would the flower so much as exist? Even in nature there is no stasis – there are ideals – but flowers inevitably perish, even in the most perfect of settings. Time takes them. Mutation takes them. Change happens regardless of ideology, regardless of vision.
What we look for now is embracing, honoring, promoting difference and alterity. Without such alterity we lose humanity, without difference in color, creed, bond, rite, ritual, pace, intellect, tolerance, we cease to be. Without difference we die, we stay, we embody stasis, we become unmoving and rigid, frozen in time, frozen in consciousness – great Titans locked in voided prison. Sehnsucht. Saudade. Seeing beauty beyond our own, ability beyond our own, wealth, influence, calmness, patience, love, quality above our own, we are driven – to both change ourselves to the best of our abilities, but also to accept whatever limits we may have, embrace them, and know that what we may lack in one place, we make up for in another – what we flaunt in one realm, we hide elsewhere – what we know here, we are ignorant of there – who we are changes, and is subject to change. We are both the subject and object of wonder – the subject and object of envy. Do we envy the flower that withers and dies? No, we envy the flower that blooms and thrives. But they are one in the same flower. In living, we die, in dying, we live.
No matter what we do, we ignore. We claim allegiance and we ignore further. We nationalize and we ignore further. We associate and we ignore further. We radicalize, and we ignore further. There is no communal holism, no universality in any one individual, yet holism lies within humanity. Yet each individual is whole within themselves. Further holism emerges when humanity embraces and reconciles with that in which we thrive – our planet, the Earth on which we stride. Further holism emerges when material embraces and reconciles with the abstract – our collective (un)conscious minds merge in unity with the material plane, and we dance our ever-differing dances to our ever-differing tunes. Abstractions stride with us, ask us to rethink- restep – reimagine with each move, force us to reevaluate, “think on our toes”, improvise, bang, jazz, motion, play – mistakes are the paths to the deepening of understanding – to the depths of empathy. And then, this is all just me, but at the same time much more than me. I am both myself and everyone I’ve perceived – to varying degrees, of course. These are my truths, and to some they will apply in their entirety, to others only somewhat, to others, not at all – and the dance moves on – the players keep playing.
The challenge is Friendship. With a capital “F”. Are we willing to engage someone from another world? To what degree? How willing are we to empathize – to embody, reconcile, reveal, listen, hear, seek to understand, affirm, to make assumptions and then be willing to be corrected on our assumptions when proven wrong? Can we enter Friendship knowing we will be wrong? Can we enter Friendship with the understanding that we will misstep, we will make a fool of ourselves, we will encounter epistemic friction, yet continue regardless? Are we capable of such a feat? Of putting our egos aside for the sake of working to make sure our partners in Friendship feel heard and understood. They are the judge of our empathy, not us. Friendship is work, and inevitably leads to friction. Let the friction of Friendship refine our empathetic edge. Let us intentionally reach beyond our own paradigms, and bear ourselves, make ourselves vulnerable in Friendship so that we might make space for others to feel understood. And that is only the first step.
Alexander Solomon is the first generation of South African Jewish immigrants, and the first in his family to attend a university. As a writer, musician, and photographer, Alexander blends philosophy, neuropsychology, and a strong urge for creative play to explore immediacy and co-creation within the human-divine relationship.