published: February 2017

‘Here never ends’, a story of us & society

by Jennifer Hotchner

Society is an expansive wing span of human connection, a force beyond us and within us. It is a never-ending story of survival, evolution and possibility, and of failure, disappointment and grief.

Society is always on the edge of describing and defining itself.  No one can escape their role in contributing to this ongoing definition. Every interaction reflects both how we feel about ourselves individually and how we feel about ourselves as a whole. How we feel about ourselves individually and how we feel about others ventures out into the design of society, then boomerangs back to us to shape our perception of ourselves and the outer world.  The grand “I” swirls around and around in a whirlpool of human connection—we walk the Earth but bounce off each other in the ether of our minds’ perception.

Society is scary. It hangs people and cuts off their heads. It pushes people out, and lures others into a place of security in which it attempts to manage the uncontrollable yet cannot prevent sickness or a flood or keep your daughter or son alive.

Society has kept us alive. We have turned to each other over and over again for comfort and safety. We have shared our stories around campfires and find that we feel for each other and can’t help but want to support one another. We have shared ideas and tools to bring each other along toward the horizon. We didn’t want to go alone.

Society has never stopped. It has never not been. And your place in this massive “I” all began with you as a quivering fleshy question mark, with no fur, unable to stand or walk. You scanned the environment for contact, building your society right then and there with this basic need. Without this contact from others you grimaced in pain, squirmed, kicked, cried, and were unable to adjust.  The minute the humans in your environment, your mother, father, grandmother, whoever your caretaker may have been, looked in your eyes and started making googly sounds, those eyes, those smiles sent messages of relief, safety and a sense of  I’m here, I’m allowed. Those sounds of care, the rocking and soothing washed over your entire being like an internal song of okayness.

Perhaps we can call this the kindness instinct, the inheritance of a driving force held in every exchange since beginingless time—the desire to be happy and free of suffering.

Every hello since, every conversation, every glance across the way started here with this initial conversation. But here never ends. Even if you did not have this type of affection and reinforcement as a child, your very structure, which is relational and malleable, is still presently in communication with your environment and others. Your beating heart softens and slows in the safe arms of another. Your eyes benefit when in contact with the eyes of another. Your need for touch in order to feel your own skin both as an infant and adult,  all made this world possible and still does.

Society is what happens when this thing in us reaches out to other.  Our eyes face outward, our hands and arms are designed to reach out. Every aspect of human design is meant to communicate with other, whether other is animal, human or sky. Our limbs and extremities do not grow inward. Even our toes reach out to balance and grip the world of other. We come equipped with an inner ear muscle that can drown out exterior noise just to hone in on a human voice. All our senses—hearing, seeing, touching, all of it— belongs to other and it doesn’t end there. Look around you. All our inventions are meant to serve other—desks, cars, music, TV. Painted yellow lines on our roads, telephones, and internet—this all has the purpose of being in relationship.

And our suffering is no different.

One of my clients described to me a particular gang fight he was in as a young man. “There’s a crowd around us. We’re enemies. We hate each other. My heart is beating so fast in my chest so fast. Every cell in my body is anticipating and fearing pain. A punch, a kick, a knife. It already hurts. There is no difference between fear and anger, our eyes pop out at each other like we’re, like we’re, looking to tear each other up or save each other. I hear everyone in the crowd waiting for something to happen, for us to hurt each other. It’s like something has to happen cause no one can handle the pressure. I hear my cousin and brother clearly but everyone else sounds like they are in bubbles of water. My bros are telling me to put the fucker down. I forget what that means. I can tell I’m not alone but I feel very alone.”

At this point he looks up at me, an adult man with three kids, a wife, and a good job. His eyes are wet and his nose is running. I feel like I am standing in that crowd with him. Even though I know he survives I sense that uncertainty still a question in his eyes. “What no one realizes when they hear about gang fights, what no one wants to admit, is that there is something in us that wishes someone out there would just break up the fight. That someone would just please break up the fight.”

He allows a few tears and wipes his nose with his fingers on his jeans as he looks away. I imagine the fight plays out in his mind. He makes barely audible sounds of pain, echoes of a past moment ricocheting off the cells, muscles and bones. I ask “When did you know you were OK?”

He takes a deep breath and looks around my office. His eyes keep landing on the bottom shelf that is dedicated to toys. “I guess right now. I’m realizing I’m OK right now.” He looks up and smiles at me. “My son likes to play with that same car.”