T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More by George Merrill

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For those with apocalyptic leanings who fear that the end time is near, 2017 hasn’t been a reassuring year.

The election kicked off confusion and chaos in Washington and throughout the world. There was the Charlottesville tragedy, the hurricanes in the Caribbean, Florida and Texas, the two earthquakes in Mexico, and recently Kim Jong-Un gleefully flashed his latest rocket claiming his is the biggest and baddest in the world. These happenings alone would suggest that the world’s end time, if not imminent, isn’t that far off.

But take heart.

Like embers flickering in a soft breeze, two bright spots recently appeared on the national scene. I thought they were encouraging.

The House and Senate Minority leaders struck a deal with President Trump. Both minority leaders proposed a plan to keep the government solvent and to aid hurricane victims. Trump bought in. In fact he was so enthused he was reported to have called both ‘Chuck’ and ‘Nancy’ the next day to express his delight in brokering a deal with his new congressional colleagues.

Both sides of the aisle are wary. The Democrats can’t imagine a deal with Trump that wouldn’t leave them holding the bag. The Republicans feel betrayed. However, taking the deal at face value definitely marks a departure from recent political intransigence. Where will it go from here? “We’ll see,” as our president often says.

Another bright spot recently revealed that, during recent Texas and Florida hurricane disasters, loss of life was kept to a minimum. Given the enormity of the storms, experts agree it could have been much worse. Over the last sixteen years government agencies have learned to cooperate more efficiently in sharing resources and information. Former deputy of FEMA Richard Serino also made this observation: “Now we’ve seen images of neighbors helping neighbors. They’re the real emergency medical workers.” It was a snapshot of what the possibilities of cooperation between people and their government can do in the face of disasters.

Cooperation gets things done. Those cooperating frequently remain invisible to the world. The peacemakers may be the children of God, but very few are ever thanked or get into the public spotlight.

I remember about ten years ago watching a conversation on TV. Democrat and former member of Homeland Security Advisory Council member, Lee H. Hamilton, and Republican and former White House Chief of Staff, James A. Baker, co-chaired a panel on Iraq. It led to a discussion of diplomacy.

I’m paraphrasing, but the picture they painted in my mind was graphic. In diplomacy, progress is agonizingly slow, and measured in inches rather than feet. You think you have it and now you don’t. You go over the same ground again and again only to find you are back where you started. It recalls the feeling of futility we’ve all had doing those knotty tasks that life sometimes calls on us to perform. In the conversation, one of them said to the effect, that after months and even years, you gain an inch and you begin slowly building on it in the same plodding way you got the inch. They both were very clear about the patience and psychological endurance that it required and the results were never wholly predictable. No matter how disappointing, you just show up and try again. That’s the art of real deals.

On the issue of cooperation, Lewis Thomas, the late dean of the Yale and NYU Medical Schools, pathologist, biologist, pediatrician and award-winning author was convinced that “the driving force in nature . . . is cooperation.” He sees it operative in the most basic life forms like our cells. In short, he insists that the evolutionary process is the survival of the most cooperative, not of the fittest. This extends to our microscopic cells.

Establishing cooperative relationships is the lynchpin in the lives of a cell. Cells not only learn to get along with toxic bacteria but, in a complicated symbiotic process, cells can make these pathogens indispensible to their own survival, like making silk purses out of sows’ ears. Thomas explains in detail the science of this process, but honestly I grew hopelessly lost among the bacteria, the chloroplasts, anaerobes, mitochondria and prokaryotes so I decided to take his word for it. I was sure he knew what he was talking about. Thomas’s thought is hopeful and inspiring; that right down to the RNA in our cells, we’re hard wired to get along.

So if our cells have learned that cooperation is the formula for survival, why do we get so stuck in conflict?

My guess is that our spirituality is evolving. It’s been evolving more slowly than biological cells. Perhaps our spirituality began developing later than our cells, and hasn’t had time yet to catch up. Spirituality is slowly working its destiny out in us. Visionaries are always ahead of the game. Prophets antagonize their contemporaries because they keep people’s focus on fundamentals like love and cooperation. The basics of survival are not welcomed when we’re hell bent on being first.

What does cooperation look like? There’s an old Chinese tale that describes it nicely.

“Can you tell me,” a dying old man, once asked a wise elder, “What are heaven and hell like?” The wise elder took the man inside a house. In every room tables were filled with delicious food. The people sitting around the table were all thin and hungry. Each held chopsticks 12 feet long. No one could not get the food to their mouths with such long chopsticks. The dying man then said to the wise elder, “Now I know what hell looks like. Show me heaven.” The wise elder took him to another house. They went inside and saw many people well fed and happy, but they too had chopsticks 12 feet long. Puzzled, the old man asked, “All of these people have 12 feet chopsticks too, yet they are well fed and happy, please explain this to me?”

The wise elder replied: “In Heaven we feed each other.”

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Letters to Editor

  1. As is usual, George, you give us food for thought.

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