Connecting the Dots

Photo Credit: Connected via Heather – Cast a Line on Flickr

I recently heard a story that got me thinking about the human condition. A friend of mine is a teacher and has taken her show on the road many times to bring her skills and passion to over 15 countries, many communities living life in the most humble fashion. As you can imagine, she spends a lot of time in airports around an incredible mix of people. Most recently she found herself beside an outspoken Tea Partier.

As they talked, my friend found herself winding up tighter and tighter listening to the impassioned stance of her fellow traveler and how shockingly it countered her own experiences as an international traveler. The Tea Partier rallied against education and healthcare reform in this country from the entrenched point of view of “why should I help you if you can’t help yourself?”

My friend, reliving the encounter, spoke beautifully: “It’s challenging to be back in the land of plenty with so many people who don’t care about their fellow countrymen and are actively belittling the people in need. After living among people who shared what little they had, I just don’t understand this.”

Personally, I too have been having a hard time understanding the frothy hate that can be sponged up all over the internet on this topic in America right now. Why is there such a stigma against social concern? It wasn’t until this morning that my sleeping brain had something to contribute to the conversation.

While sleeping I had stitched together several pieces of my life: an online psychology quiz I took out of boredom one night, a bubble bath listening to Gone Girl on my tablet, the blood moon, and a call to “Tackle the Trash.”

Come take a walk with me.

I got my degree in Communication thanks to my insatiable interest in human interaction.  This granted me license to take all sorts of delightful people-prodding courses, most notably, psychology courses. That being said, when I see a psych quiz in my Facebook feed… I’m probably going to give it a whirl.

One of the questions I got wrong was on the Prisoner’s Dilemma. If you aren’t familiar with this, the scenario is as follows (via Wikipedia):

Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to or exchanging messages with the other. The police admit they don’t have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They plan to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the police offer each prisoner a Faustian bargain. Each prisoner is given the opportunity either to betray the other, by testifying that the other committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent. Here’s how it goes:

If A and B both betray the other, each of them serves 2 years in prison.

crim 1

If A betrays B but B remains silent, A will be set free and B will serve 3 years in prison (and vice versa)

crim 2

If A and B both remain silent, both of them will only serve 1 year in prison (on the lesser charge)

crim 23jpg

You probably recognize this as the game show Friend or Foe?  If you’ve ever watched it, you probably were unsure which path the contestants would choose. What the game reveals about us as humans, though, is that the fear of betrayal is a powerful pickling liquid for our brains.

Which brings me to my bath.

I’ve been loving audio books lately and decided to consume Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl aurally.  With marriage as a central focus, the book provides a lot of examples of relationships and how they can soar or sink. Now how’s that for a real life example of the Prisoner’s Dilemma! Trust and the fear of betrayal (cheating, abandonment, and intimacy issues ring any bells?) are a central fixture of any relationship! A cooperative relationship definitely yields each person more in the long run, but that certainly doesn’t turn off the urge to get the most for yourself right now, does it? YOLO! Maury and Dr. Phil are definitely thankful for this genetic wrinkle.

Don’t believe me? Let’s cut out the other person altogether. Let’s just look at your relationship with you! You know that healthy habits will benefit both you and future you, but when you see that bag of chips, your friend’s text for a wild night out, or your bed is treacherously warmer than the gym, it is certainly harder to be so sure of your next move.  The obesity problem and the decline of marriage stability aren’t all that hard to figure out if you consider them from this angle.  We’re all scared of each other.

Enter the blood moon.

Spooky as it sounds, many stayed up to catch a glimpse of this astrological performance.  What I love about the celestial is that it’s been playing shows for mankind from day one. Looking up at the moon as it slipped into something more colorful, I began thinking about how many others were doing the exact same thing at that very moment and how many more have done the exact same thing throughout human history and felt enchanted.

But just as my friend found herself trapped in a strange tea party being served an alien point-of-view brew, not everyone had the same experience with the moon. Some actually looked up and saw biblical proof that this country made a terrible choice for its leaders.  Once again we see the Prisoner’s Dilemma performing, this time on the national stage!  With Congress in their own episode of Friend or Foe? and both sides opting for the lose-lose scenario.

Everyone’s heard the old adage “united we stand; divided we fall.” We know teamwork is the better choice, but somehow we’re all guilty of performance anxiety when things get hot and heavy. Some matters seem too big and too important to apply faith. We go into survival mode and hunch down ready to attack.

“Tackle the Trash” instead.

My county has posted an event called “Tackle the Trash” to encourage the community to address litter around the area. Doesn’t really seem to make sense in the Prisoner’s Dilemma scenario, but if you think about it, having a strong sense of community is at the heart of deflating that fear of being betrayed. That warm blanket of freedom that we like to cover ourselves with in America didn’t just drop out of the sky. It was woven strand by strand by individuals with the courage to take a chance on each other for the sake of the future of this country.  We shouldn’t let fear of our countrymen unravel something so precious. We can instead take each thread and strengthen it with small acts of camaraderie. Maybe it’s a park clean up with the neighborhood on the weekend. Or perhaps lending your expressive face to a local library’s story time (your selfie portfolio demonstrates your range!) Instead of jogging the park alone, switch it up and start a pick-up game of hoops with the kids in the park. A few hours in exchange for some insight into just what sort of impact being more socially aware can have doesn’t seem like a tough thing to take a chance on. If you think about it, you’ve probably taken greater risks with cheap takeout.

As a mixed-race woman in a mixed-race relationship (starting to feel a little like Inception…) I like to think of myself as a physical manifestation of restoration in this country (a lofty vision, I know). Black and white race relations will always be a feature of our nation’s character, but as we work each day in our small ways connect with our fellow man we remove the uncertainties we have about those who are walking a different path from us and we find that we can both come away with more than enough to thrive.

Lindsay M. About Lindsay M.
Lindsay is a newly minted Coloradan. She's many things: a woman, a wife, a sister, a daughter. Currently living with SLE Lupus and wrangling a pair of dachshunds in her off-time. Lindsay enjoys the absurdity and profound beauty of life and aims to capture a chunk of it in her writing.

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  • Ann

    When we focus collectively, we can move mountains. When we focus on differences, we trip over stones. I enjoyed ” Connecting the Dots “.

    • Lindsay

      Thanks for reading! It is definitely hard to keep that perspective everyday, but the opportunity to take a more constructive path pops up in every corner of our lives it seems!

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