So, this woman I hardly know, who attends some of the same exercise classes I do, says this to me today: “You’re a Good Woman!”
Where’s that coming from? She hardly knows me! Well, she asked me how many Body Pump (read: really hard strength training) classes I do in a week. I raised 3 fingers with a smile. So, that’s why she said what she said. It’s a really hard class, and 3 is more than many people would choose to do. Now, I don’t know about it making me “good,” but it sure makes me stronger!
Throughout the class, she and several other women made eye contact with me, smiled, nodded, rolled their eyes after a really hard track, and made comments to each other such as “I need a nap,” “This is killing me,” “I need a drink,” and that sort of thing. It’s just support and reinforcement of this simple truth: we are all in this together. We may not vote the same, we may come from very different backgrounds, but when we are in class, we are all the same. Just workout buddies doing our best.
There’s a nice feeling of solidarity, especially among the women. We’ve all been raised in a culture that doesn’t value muscles on women’s bodies and that doesn’t actively support or encourage women to be powerful and strong. I also feel solidarity with the people in class who are older, regardless of how hard they work out and how much they can do. They are showing up for it. They, too, catch my eye, smile, say hi, and approach me before and after class to chat. It really helps motivate us when we see people who look like us stepping up to whatever level of challenge presents itself. We think, “If they can do it, so can I.”
Now, I’m pretty self-motivated, and if I followed a video on my computer telling me to do all the same moves, I would work out hard. Still, even with an inspiring instructor, it would be boring, and it wouldn’t be as much fun. Being with other people who are doing it with us changes everything. When my cycling buddies see me swallow coffee and crank up my speed or get out of my seat to cycle harder, they smile and sometimes join me. When I see them picking up the intensity, I do too. We’re just keeping each other company. Good company.
One of my favorite tracks in Body Pump is a version of this song called “Paris” by the Chainsmokers. There’s a similar song that I like that has lyrics along the same lines called “We Go Down Together” by Dove Cameron and Khalid. The chorus of “We Go Down Together” says this: “If you go down, we go down together. If you hold on, I might just stay forever. If you get hurt, I’ll try to make it better. If you go down, then we go down together.”
How can so many people walk through life believing they are exempt from this, thinking that somehow other people’s suffering has nothing to do with them? It is not possible, really, to live as though you are on your own well-protected island. Sure, it may be easy to detach from the reality of starvation in Africa when you have plenty to eat in the United States, but in the end, it’s the overall balance of resources, shared or not, that creates a situation where there is excess in one place and lack in another. Even if you happen to live in the land of excess, you will still be affected by the events that occur in other places, some of which are very far away. That nuclear reactor that melted down? The radiation will come your way. Those out-of-control wildfires burning in another country? Yep, they affect your air quality as we have come to deeply appreciate recently. The dumping of toxic waste in the river a few states over eventually affects our drinking water. As the earth’s environment degrades, everyone’s quality of life will be affected. We are, quite simply, all in the same boat.
Closer to home, an individual’s alcoholism or mental distress affects the whole family (for generations, actually!). An unhappy or excessively controlling and micro-managing boss’s behavior has a ripple effect on all the other employees. The resulting higher staff turnover affects the quality of everyone’s work life.
There are so many examples of how we rise together and fall together. Think about the last time you made a choice to lift by example. You walked into a negatively charged environment or situation, and you chose the high road, helping to lighten things up. Or think about the last time you had a really nice social conversation going, and one negative person came in to complain endlessly about something and got everyone on the path of whining and commiserating with them.
All Together Now
I think a nice spiritual practice is this: as we go through our day, we focus not on our own desires and needs exclusively. We instead focus, as well, on the experience of others. What might they be going through? How might they be feeling? How might our behavior be affecting them? Imagine that you’re driving agonizingly slowly behind another car on a one-lane road, and you’re running late. Pause to wonder this: might the driver of the car in front of me be an 85-year-old man or woman holding on to a feeling of independence by continuing to drive him/herself around town? If it was your 85-year-old mom, would you be honking or tailgating? I doubt it.
On the political front, which seems to be all about disharmony and oppositional behavior, finger-pointing, and accusations, what could happen if we showed an interest in the feelings and needs of those who vote differently than us? Could we consider things from a different point of view? Okay, so someone thinks that a certain person would make a great president, and you are horrified by the very thought of it. What might they be seeing in them that appeals? That answers a need that they have? If we start thinking this way, we could really turn things around. It won’t happen if we are caught up in bickering. It won’t happen for as long as we see people who are just like us as the enemy.
Let’s practice looking for and finding commonality wherever it can be found and then building on it. With friends and family, in social groups, and with perfect strangers. We don’t have to like everyone, but we do need to find ways to work with them.
In the end, we’re in the same boat, and when the boat capsizes, we’re all in the water. Together.