Are We All the Same Person?-#4

My final resolution for 2011 is a speculation, one that popped into my head a few months ago. It is hardly original; a Googling of the phrase We are all the same person yields 271 million results. I have not studied Buddhism, but apparently this is part of Buddhist doctrine. I do not insist on the idea as doctrine; I don’t insist on anything as doctrine. Fact is, I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone can know. The interesting thing, to me, is how this thought, this idea, has changed the way I look at my fellow humans. Overall, it has improved my attitude, my mood, and the quality of my life.

The first couple days, I was giggling to myself a bit, because if we are all the same person, that means I have to acknowledge in myself some pretty bad behavior. I wish I would use my turn signal more consistently, I think, as a car swerves in front of me unexpectedly. Silly, but it’s better than getting angry. I must be having a rough day, I think, if the person behind the counter is abrupt or rude to me.

At the same time, none of this is funny at all. If we are all the same person, why do we so often hate each other and blame each other? I suppose the answer to that is either obvious or mysterious, depending on how you look at it. A person hates someone because he perceives that other person is a threat to his well being, or to that of someone he loves. How could you not hate someone who harmed your child, for instance?

But if we are all the same person, harm done by one person to another is a form of self-destruction, and this is a behavior there is no shortage of. Self-harm? Let me count the ways: suicide, cutting, anorexia, substance addiction…on and on and on. And that doesn’t even begin to take in all the more subtle forms of self-destruction and self-hate. But taking the attitude that we are all one person helps with these self-destructive mind-sets as well. It is more difficult to fear an authority figure–a boss, a cop, an IRS agent–if that person and I are the same.

Oddly, I find this we-are-same-person mind-set works less well with those closest to me–my husband, my daughter, my closest friends. These are the people I trust, the people I’m most relaxed around. I often feel I know exactly what they’re thinking, and that’s dangerous. It’s dangerous, because then I might forget to ask what they’re thinking and feeling. I might make assumptions, assumptions that are wrong. I might end up not being so close to them at all. I need the separation from those closest to me, so that I can still see them, so that I can stay close to them.

In the end, for me, this notion that we might all be the same person is a tool, only a lens to look through, a way of better intuiting the impulses behind the behavior of others, as well as my own.

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