I was reading a book awhile ago that likened the process of opening our hearts to digging in the ground. First we hit hard rock, and chip away at it, feeling like nothing is happening. But after awhile we might notice a few droplets of water, then a tiny trickle, then as stream...and soon it is a rushing river that flows to an ocean.
And so I wrote this song & recorded it on my phone:
My soul is a field where love may grow
Though it hasn't in a long while
But I'll pick up my plough and I'll pick up my hoe
For the soil is rocky and dry
Oh, let me see sunshine
Oh, let me feel the rain
Let me remember in the leaner times
That I'll reap what I've sown once again
Let me find all the hard lumps of clay in my heart
Let me soften them with my own hands
Let me dig down a well to the water's source
Let it flow, and nourish the land
Let me take down the fences that keep others out
Let them come and take what they need
Let us sit at a table and eat our fill
And be grateful for tomorrow's seed
I recently identified a "hard lump of clay in my heart" for me to go to work on: competition.
I went to my high school reunion the other night. I'd been halfway dreading it, thinking that many of us would leave with the bitter taste of jealousy in our mouths. But once I got there I was surprised and so glad to see how folks have managed to piece together happy lives. It made me realize how much our high school mindset is governed by explicit or unstated competition with one another -- in academics, in sports, in the social hierarchy, in the arts. An education system that is dead-set on ranking us, paired with the sudden onset of lord-of-the-flies hormones makes for a brutal cocktail that's difficult to resist. We all drink the Kool-Aid in one way or another, and in some dark corner of our minds we believe that our self worth is related to how we stack up in comparison to others. But in real life, we aren't really in competition with one another, save for a few very specific circumstances. Others' successes don't take away from my own. If anything, it's the opposite, and if I can learn to truly be happy for others, my joy is boundless.
Our modern economy also exploits a narrative of scarcity to drive us to believe we must compete to live. There's a fearful voice in my head that shouts that there isn't enough to go around, so I better get mine before someone else gets it. It's a lot easier for someone like me to shout back at that voice, though. I've grown up with significant privileges--depending on how you measure it, I could be counted among the 1% on a global scale. There are billions worldwide who legitimately don't have any time or resources to do anything but try to provide for themselves and their families.
One could argue that historically, communities have depended much more on cooperation than competition. What if we could somehow take a percentage of the energy that is spent competing with one another and instead turn that drive and creativity towards the goal of providing for everyone? It's already happening, but so much more is needed--how do we reclaim even more of our time and inspiration from the rat race? And once we do, there's no telling what will happen. I'm no Bible thumper but I can't help but think of the loaves and fishes.