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Are we really so different?

There's a man I know, who coaches at my kids' athletics club.

He's middle-aged, personable and chatty. Whenever we meet, he always asks how not only I am, but also my mother, who he remembers has dementia. He listens with genuine care.

This man gives up a lot of his spare time to coach young people for absolutely no financial reward.

He's done it for years, going to the club and back 2-3x a week, accompanying them on the long coach rides to race-meets, taking videos, keeping note of everybody's times and performances, and lobbying British Athletics for funding and support.

What an amazing, self-less man you'd think. Yes.

AND, once you've been talking with him for a few minutes, you'll also notice he's a little quirky and has some pretty extreme opinions.

He's highly critical of single mothers on benefits, immigrants and the unemployed. Many of the perspectives he advances are akin to Nigel Farage or Donald Trump amplified or twisted.

It'd be fair to say that I hold diametrically opposite views to this man on most things. And if he were posting them on Facebook, without me knowing him, I'd be horrified and potentially make a scathing comment.

And yet, I - and many others - can't help but like him and we always have a friendly chat when we see each other.

It's not that I don't voice my perspective or alarm if he says something that's so far off "right" I can't let it slide, but neither does either of us feel the need to argue or push our points home. We even laugh at/with one another.

In this time of ever-increasing extremes and polarities, it seems to me that human contact and connection with as diverse a range of people as possible and perhaps especially those we think we "hate", is invaluable.

As a graduate student researching the anthropology of conflict, I took an advanced course in Peace Research at the University of Oslo. Around 30 graduate students either from war zones or research on war around the world came together - and we all had to live, study and work together.

The greatest tension always came, when we discussed matters of perspective: who was right, who was wrong, who'd done what, what the other needed to do to fix it.

And of course, for many of those there, their emotions ran high, based upon the direct experience of the "other" inflicting acts of violence and killing upon their communities. Each of them knew the pain of loss of loved ones and the effects of destruction.

The greatest harmony always came, when we weren't focussed on defending positions of identity, but simply got to hang out and hear about one another's daily lives: our families, food, sport and music, for example.

I've noticed in myself recently, how I can get really self-righteous and fiercely scornful of those, who are saying and doing things I find morally wrong.

And then I have to keep reminding myself of the man at the athletics club as an example that, ultimately, we are all human and that it's only through maintaining the human connection, that difference has the highest chance of being bridged.

It's so much harder to want to biff someone on the nose if you know them, however objectionable their opinions, than if they're an anonymous name and face behind a screen.

I just wanted to post this today as a reminder to myself and anybody else who cares, that scathing critique might make me feel better, but it's probably not going to change things much.

Of course, there is a role (imho anyhow) for fierce compassion, the voice of truth and even mindful activism, most especially in these crazy times, but let us also bear in mind that our perspective is always human and therefore partial.

The challenge I see for myself is rooting firmly in love and awareness (since without these, I am most likely creating MORE duality and drama), mastering the thoughts that arise (since they create my reality) and choosing my statements and actions wisely. Sat Nam

And if this is something you'd like to explore for yourself, then it's one of the themes of the upcoming workshop: ReWilding & Reconciliation, that I am co-facilitating with masculinity expert, shaman and author, Nick Clements on Sunday, June 9th, here in London. Please message me to enquire.

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