What Is This?
Odd Company -- March 28, 2021
Dear Friends, Neighbors, and Family,
Welcome to the first issue of “Odd Company.” This newsletter is for everyone who’s uncomfortable about our growing inability to get along with one another and would like to do something to help. It’s for everyone who’s been wondering how the heck to talk to someone whose views are completely different from their own. It’s for everyone who would just as soon avoid name-calling, ghosting, doxxing, litigation, revenge, and — of course — fistfights and the casual use of firearms to solve problems.
I’ve been worried about all this for some years now. Well…some decades, really. Nothing in a society works very well when people lose the knack for getting along with each other. Like it or not, there’s a lot we can’t accomplish alone. Among other things, this includes keeping our cupboards full of food; staying healthy; educating our children; building houses, roads and bridges; running an electrical grid or a water system; and keeping ourselves safe from those who wish us harm. If you want to take it out to planetary scale, it includes things like running a successful democracy or stopping a pandemic. If you want to take it down to a finer grain, it includes things like getting through the holidays with your merry spirit intact.
The point is, we’re not cats. Well, okay, maybe that’s not the whole point. But it’s part of it. For human beings, getting along with each other isn’t some sort of optional frill. As we all know after a year in varying degrees of isolation, we don’t exactly thrive without regularly doing more than bumping elbows with each other. And there are *a lot* of us now. When I was a kid (we won’t go into exactly when that was), there were about 2.5 billion people on Earth. Now there are 8 billion. We’re in each other’s faces all the time. We are deeply social animals. If we want to solve the problems that are now beginning to threaten our prospects, we have to get better at honoring points of view other than our own.
Pacing around during the wee hours, fretting in the moonlight, I asked myself — not once, but many times — what I, one small person (and a very small one, at that), should be doing about all this. What can I contribute? My community organizing skills are nonexistent. Protests and rallies scare me. I’ve spent much of my life alone in a room for hours at a time every day, reading and writing. And up till now, most of what I’ve written has been novels and poems. Which is not to say that novels and poems can’t make the world a better place. They can. But that takes a specific type of talent I’ve never imagined myself to have. I can tell a good story; Jane Austen I am not.
It’s funny how sometimes if you turn your face toward the heavens and ask for a Sign, the heavens oblige. Years ago, I subscribed to emails from a group called The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education — CCARE for short. They’re affiliated with the Stanford University School of Medicine, and I have occasionally gone to classes there for the purpose of brushing up on my meditation practice. (Yep, I meditate, and have for a long time. We’ll go into the reasons in a future post.)
One day, I received an email from CCARE announcing a new 10-month class designed to train people to “…bring understanding, resiliency, and kindness to their families, teams, groups, partners, organizations, and communities.” I considered it, and decided the class involved too great a commitment of time. But you know how Signs are. When you’ve asked for one, and it arrives, there’s no ignoring it. So by and by, since the idea wouldn’t leave me alone, I joined the Applied Compassion Academy class of 2021.
This newsletter will help fulfill some of the promises I made when I signed up. Equally important, I hope you’ll enjoy coming along with me as I follow this interesting path. As I learn things, I’ll write about them here. Because I enjoy tangents, good stories, photos and music, there will be some of those. And because it’s never a good idea to take one’s self too seriously, there’s sure to be some laughter, too. Mainly, though, I hope we’ll all end up a lot more comfortable with people who aren’t like us — comfortable in odd company, you might say.
If you subscribe, “Odd Company” will appear in your in-box once each week or so. That’s the plan anyway. If you’d rather not subscribe, check back here once in a while. Back issues are easy to access. Since this publication is more like a book than a blog, I recommend that you start with the oldest post and read forward. Many thanks to Substack.