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Sunday, October 21, 2012

"No Man is an Island"

"In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else ..." -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Humanity has lived under an illusion.  Many believe that we have unlimited independence of choice.  Reality demonstrates otherwise.  What is it that restricts choice?  It is connection, connection across space and time.  Connection creates the need for moral/ethical behavior.

In the United States, we often hear social commentators state that the American mantra is "What's in it for me?"  The consequence of this is a disconnected America drawing closer and closer to anarchy.  Wouldn't we be better served as a nation, if we changed that question to "What's in it for us?"

My father was a dentist.  In his office, he had a cutaway picture of a human body showing the potential effect of one cavity on various parts of the body.  Virtually every part of the body could be affected by that one cavity.

The human body is a system.  A system is a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole.  The nature of a system is such that any action taken by one element will affect every element in the system.

The universe is a system.  Everything in it is connected by fields, such as gravity, electromagnetism, etc.  Nothing changes in the universe without the entire universe being affected.  The changes may be infinitesimally small and beyond measure.  However, over time the changes may produce cosmic effects.  Those who are familiar with the "butterfly effect" of deterministic chaos theory are aware that the fluttering of a butterfly's wings off the coast of Africa could lead to a hurricane in Florida. 

[Another dramatic example of global connectedness is the Worldwide Web.  In less than two weeks, these essays have reached six countries beyond the United States.]

If this is so for the universe, can this principle also apply to human society?  Is society a connected system?  Do our individual choices ripple out to affect those around us?  Conversely, do the acts of others impact on who we are?

Epidemics, not just of disease, but also of fear, hate and greed can spread through nations and the world.  Epidemics also spread across generations, as we have learned with regard to alcoholism, drug addiction and AIDS.  The Bible declares "... visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and to the fourth generation" (Ex. 34:7).  A parable from the world of mysticism illustrates this with regard to the individual.  Everything we say and do creates an angel.  It can be a good angel or an evil angel.  Remember that angels live and act long after we are gone. 

The Torah repeatedly asserts that the well-being of a society rests on the moral/ethical behavior of the individuals within that society.  It declares that the immoral acts of one person, or a few people, can corrupt an entire society.

This confirms the words of John Donne that "no man is an island".  Our very existence depends on the acts of all those around us.  This is demonstrated by history itself.

This universal connection creates the need for balance.  In addition, as we have said before (10/15/2012), balance is essential for justice.  If we, as a nation, deny our connection to each other, this is the root of the destruction of national identity.  The loss of national identity creates divisiveness and loss of balance.  Abraham Lincoln prophetically warned us about 150 years ago: "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."

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