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All One; All Different [Addressing Spiritual Reductionism]
“We’re one, but we are not the same.”—Bono, U2 Once I was in a train station waiting for a train with a friend. He pointed to a steel and cement column and said, “at the sub-atomic level, this column is mostly air. So are you. So am I…”. And he went on to state we were the same as the column—no difference—and no different from one another. He went on to imply that there was, therefore, no meaning to anything. I stretched my arm out, made a fist, and pushed my fist at the column until it stopped with a thud. I looked at him and I said, “that may be so, AND at the same time, the world we move through is not the sub-atomic world”. Often we are addressed with reminders, assertions, and at times even pleas, that we are “all one”. We are all human. We are all the same at some level. We all bleed red. At the sub-atomic level, we are all made up of the same stuff. In fact, at the sub-atomic level, at least at our current level of knowledge [see String Theory for an interesting hypothesis about how we may be very different from one another indeed], not only are we all “the same” as beings, we are the same as a rock, dirt, plant life, our dog, the wall, etc. Eastern Spiritual traditions remind us that at the ultimate level, it is all vibrations, all wavelets. "Validated" by science, at the “ultimate” level, we are all the same—“just” sub-atomic particles. And yet, anyone with eyes, ears, a tactile sense, and a mind can tell we are all very, very different. I challenge anyone who says that the ultimate level is the only important level (“we are all one”) to Zen his or her way through me the next time we meet. The problem with this is that most people cannot seem to contain both I.D.E.A.s intellectually, experientially, or spiritually, so then end up ignoring one or the other, or collapsing the informational and the practical. Does our having the same sub-atomic structures mean we are all the same? Are you “the same” as a murderer? A rapist? A child molester? A terrorist? A priest? A politician? A man? A woman? A tribal leader? A shaman? A grocery clerk? A Fortune 500 CEO? Are you and I “the same” as Mozart, Bill Gates, Socrates, Thomas Jefferson, or Ayn Rand? Of course not. And, yes. We have differing sets of skills, intelligence, symmetry, size, shape, and color. And yet...to paraphrase Ken Wilber, “while we are all perfect manifestations of the divine—of Spirit—yet how we demonstrate that is bound by our current level of development; we are limited to our current depth”. Spiritual reductionism [we are all one and we are all perfect and we are all love] is usually accompanied by moral relativism. No act is inherently better than any other act. No world-view is more true than any other—and they are arbitrary. I disagree. Setting aside the performative contradiction (if no world-views are any more true than the other, then neither is that world-view—and thus it is false), compassion is better than anger because it possesses greater depth. Love is better than hate for the same reason. Grace is better than vengeance for the same reason—it requires an awareness of greater depth to exercise those choices, therefore, it is better. Liberty is better than tyranny. Free Enterprise is better that centrally planned economies. In both cases they produce better results. Measurably better. Different beings possess different levels of awareness; different depths that that can reflect back by the development of their own depth. In this, we are very different indeed. Is there utility in thinking we are all one—all the same? Perhaps. It can assist us in bridging potentially explosive differences in a world where differences in ideology can kill and maim. At the same time, in a world where ideologies can kill and maim, we had better keep the differences in mind as well. In all things, be discerning, but not judgmental. Keep your mind open—but keep it working. Never allow someone to demand you turn off your common sense for their imagined utopia.