In October of last year, after watching the second presidential debate, I began posting a nightly gratitude list on Facebook. I didn’t set out to create a habit that would go on for a year, but the practice remains. It is a way to counter the vitriol, the violence, the hatred, despair, and anger that is swirling.

We are in a time of sweeping change. In Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, Margaret Wheatley writes, “It is accurate to label this time as uncertain and chaotic, spinning wildly out of control. Every day we experience disruption, swerves in direction, short-term decisions that undo the future, propaganda, slander, lies, blame denial, violence.” She goes on with more description of the chaotic time we are living, tells us it is inevitable, and that “we must prepare for disintegration and collapse.”

My November blogpost last year, written just before the election, referred to a story from John Lewis’ childhood in which he and his cousins moved together from corner to corner of the house they were in during a raging storm to keep the house from flying up into the air off its foundation.

Wheatley, using the lenses of science of living systems and the pattern of collapse in complex civilizations, says the “house” we’re living in is going to fly off its foundation no matter what we do. I find the notion at once horribly unsettling and also really interesting. I wonder who and how many will suffer most greatly from the “disintegration and collapse.” I fear that it is the same people who are already bearing the brunt of suffering: poor people, people of color, indigenous peoples, religious minorities, women, and on and on. I am interested in what can come when rebuilding must happen, while I doubt that it will happen in my lifetime. I wonder what I can do right now.

Wheatley’s book seeks to answer these questions:

  • Where are we and how did we get here?
  • What is the role of leaders now?
  • How do we create islands of sanity that sustain our best human qualities?

I will begin to answer the third question, as it mirrors my wondering.

We exist in a bundle of life. We say, “A person is a person through other people.” It is not “I think therefore I am” [but rather] I am human because I belong, I participate, I share.
-Archbishop Desmond Tutu

We are all connected. There are many ways we are trying to deny this, to break ties, to separate ourselves, and yet that is not the reality of who we are.

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
-Romans 12: 4-5

Let us live into our interconnectedness, walk through our fear of differences, disagreements, and misunderstandings. I don’t pretend this is easy. I do believe it is both possible and worthwhile. It can start with a question as simple as “Where are you from?” or “What is your favorite food?” When we discover or rediscover a line of connection, whether one thin strand or a thick rope, let us celebrate it. Let us learn from it: What does this connection teach me about myself, another, our world? The hard questions can come after we remember that we are connected.

When differences, disagreements, and misunderstandings seem insurmountable, let us again lean into the learning: What does this current block teach me about myself, another, our world? After some time we may choose to try to remove the block or we may realize that work is not ours, but either way the learning is not lost.

I slept and dreamt that life was joy.

I awoke and saw that life was service.

I acted and behold, service was joy.

-Rabindranath Tagore

When we find the work that is ours to do, our unique calling to serve, whether as teacher, giver, leader, storyteller, meal-maker, artist, truth-teller, inventor, scientist, organizer, or whatever it may be, we find that service is joy, even when done in the midst of chaos. When many of us find and pursue our call to serve, we “create islands of sanity that sustain our best human qualities” because we are living them through our service.

We each have one life to live. The world is changing around us and through us. We can choose to withdraw or to participate, but either way the change is happening. We can burrow ourselves into inaction or step out into action, even if we don’t know or won’t see how it turns out.

We can complain about the ugly landscape or plant seeds. We can be silent in the face of injustice or we can speak. We can avoid people who may be different or try being with them with open and curious minds. We can let words go unspoken or tell someone what we love and appreciate about them. We can focus only on what is wrong or express gratitude for the abundance of what is right. There are so many things we can do.

Humans have a responsibility to find themselves where they are, in their own proper time and place, in the history to which they belong and to which they must inevitably contribute either their response or their evasions, either truth and act, or mere slogan and gesture.
-Thomas Merton

We can allow ourselves to get swept away by the sea of insanity or we can create islands of sanity.