One chilly Saturday morning, I was standing in a draughty auditorium watching one of my daughters in the midst of a dress rehearsal for her drama class’s annual production. A talented actress, she had been chosen for the lead part during the auditions, but a few weeks before the dress rehearsal had been shunted to a more minor role. I had never been able to discover the reason for the change-and my daughter refused to talk about it – until one of her friends let slip that, when a new director took over, another thirteen-year-old girl had lied about her acting experience in order to persuade him that she should be given the part that had been assigned to my daughter – her best friend.
When I tried to raise this tactfully with her mother, another spectator that day, she cut me off and shrugged. ‘Well, that’s life,’ she replied airily, ‘isn’t it?’
I was taken aback, but I had to admit she had a point. Certainly that’s the life we grown-ups have designed for ourselves. Competition makes up the very warp and weft of the societies of most modern developed countries. It is the engine of our economy, and it is assumed to be the basis of most of our relationships-in business, in our neighbourhoods, even with our closest friends. Being first, no matter how, has permeated our lexicon as a given: All’s fair in love and war. Survival of the fittest. Winner take all. He who dies with the most toys wins. It is hardly surprising that highly competitive tactics have crept into the social relations of our children, leading to transgressions, large and small.
I began to think about the social exchange in my own neighbourhood, and about how much of what psychologists call ‘relativity Awareness’ has played a part. How many children do you have? What kind of car do you drive? How many holidays are you off on this year? Which university has your kid got into? How many As did he or she achieve at A level? Where, in other words, do you fit on the social ladder?
The notion that competition is a fundamental human urge made no sense to me from a scientific perspective. I write about frontier science, and the latest evidence from many disciplines – from neuroscience and biology to quantum physics – suggests that nature’s most basic drive is not competition, as classic evolutionary theory maintains, but wholeness. I’d seen a good deal of new research demonstrating that all living beings, including human beings, have been hardwired to seek connection above virtually any other impulse – even at personal cost. Nevertheless, our current paradigm, as provided us by traditional science, maintains a view of the universe as a place of scarcity populated by separate things that must turn against each other in order to survive. We’ve all simply assumed that’s life.
I began to ask myself a basic question: Does it have to be like this?
Were we meant to be so competitive with one another? Is it inherent in animal and human biology? How did it get like this? And if we’re not this, what are we supposed to be?
Since that dress rehearsal, I’ve been thinking that, at some point, we’d torn up the social contract and forgotten how to come together. Somewhere along the line, we’d forgotten how to be.
It doesn’t have to be like this. As I began researching and studying the latest discoveries in a vast array of disciplines – general biology, physics, zoology, psychology, botany, anthropology, astronomy, chrono-biology and cultural history – the more it became clear to me that the lives we’ve chosen to lead are not consistent with who we really are.
A new understanding is emerging from the laboratories of the most cutting-edge physicists, biologists, and psychologist that challenges the very way we conceive of ourselves. Frontier biologists, psychologists and sociologists have all found evidence that individuals are far less individual than we thought they were.
A profound connection
Between the smallest particles of our being, between our body and our environment, between ourselves and all of the people with whom we are in contact, between every member of every societal cluster, there is a Bond – a connection so integral and profound that there is no longer a clear demarcation between the end of one thing and the beginning of another. The world essentially operates, not through the activity of individual things, but in the connection between them – in a sense, in the space between things.
These new discoveries in physics and biology demonstrate that all living things succeed and prosper only when they see themselves as part of a greater whole. Rather than a will to compete and dominate, the essential impulse of all of life is a will to connect. The crises we have faced on every front have occurred precisely because we are operating according to an outdated set of rules. The scientific story of who we are has drastically changed, and that we must change with it in order to survive. The competitive impulse that is now a major part of our self-definition and that forms the undercurrent of all our lives is the same mindset that has created every one of the large global crises now threatening to destroy us. If we can recover wholeness in our relationships, in my view, we will begin to heal our world.
We can recapture our sense of the connection between things, but it requires a very different set of rules from the ones we currently live by.
We need to perceive the world differently, relate to others differently, organise ourselves – our friendships and neighbourhoods, our towns and cities – differently. If we’re not to be separate, but always attached and engaged, we need to change our fundamental purpose on earth as something more than one based on struggle and domination. We must look at our lives from an entirely different perspective, a larger vantage point, to notice the connections that tie us all together.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Not for one more day.
From The Bond, © 2011 by Lynne McTaggart, published by Hay House