I picked up the term “invisible force” from watching the first half of a jiu-jitsu documentary of the same name.
In jiu-jitsu, there’s this abstract notion of connection. You could ask all the professors and masters what this “connection” is. I suspect you’d receive a hundred different answers. But while nobody can really define what it is, nearly everyone understands what having it will allow you to do.
Connection allows you to exert control over your opponent. Connection gives you the opportunity to leverage your technical and athletic abilities against your adversary. Connection provides a sense of the opposition’s movement and intentions. In short, connection leads to victory. Without connection, there’s no control, no leverage, no sense, and consequently, no victory.
Connection is an invisible force. It’s impact is not easily quantified, but it can be felt.
This morning I began to think of other invisible forces whose presence influences our lives. Before I dive in to what they are, I want to make a distinction. An invisible force can do only two things: It can push, or it can pull. An invisible force can separate us or combine us. It can repel us or bring us closer. It can push us apart or pull us together.
With that in mind, let’s begin.
THE FORCES THAT PUSH US APART.
– He’s better than me. I’m better than her. They’re better than you. Comparison finds differences and makes them the focus. Instead of celebrating our shared attributes, comparison places everyone in hierarchies, categories and groups.
– A cruel man is a small man. Those who deliberately inflict pain and suffering are feeding the worst part of their nature. The vicious, unkind, cruel part. The part that punishes and tortures for it’s own enjoyment. The part that separates itself from it’s own humanity.
– Discrimination is another force that feeds on differences. It’s aim is to emphasis these differences and make them seem irreconcilable. To make them seem like they can’t co-exist.
– Ignorance is a more innocent separator. The ignorant make decisions and take actions that go against the best interests of themselves and others. And when we inadvertently go against self-interest? We meet with opposition. We create conflict. We open wounds.
– Greed. Want to incite someone to walk all over another person? Offer them something they secretly desire. Not necessarily something they need, but something they want. Dangle wealth, power, influence, status in front of them like you would a treat in front of a dog. Some will do anything to attain such things.
– If “me” is more important than “them”, how do you think I’ll treat everyone else? With respect? With kindness? I don’t think so. If my ego is inflated and puts me and my needs on a pedestal above everyone else, do you think people will be drawn to me? Will they want to be close to me?
– Want to enhance the distance between two groups? Erect a boundary. It can be something tangible, like a country’s border, or something more arbitrary, like a collection of job responsibilities. However abstract or concrete it is, there’s no denying that boundaries cut us off from others. They create an us-versus-them dynamic.
THE FORCES THAT PULL US TOGETHER.
– If you respect yourself, if you have a healthy self-image, you’re more likely to…
– …respect others. To give them your time and energy and attention. To listen to them and see their rights as just as inviolable as your own. If you respect others, regardless of background, beliefs or ability, you’re more likely to see humanity as a whole, and look past boundaries and labels.
– The reciprocity bias: when we give something to someone, it sends a signal to the recipient. A signal which we literally cannot help being affected by. Any form of kindness or generosity makes us want to reciprocate, and so brings us closer together.
– When you understand yourself, others and the world, you’re able to see the differences that make us unique. But more importantly, you can see the similarities. You see that we’re not that different from one another. We have the same wants and needs, and feel the same pain from the same problems.
– When astronauts look back at the Earth, what do they see? They see the world without borders. They see the world as a tiny sphere floating in a mass of emptiness. That’s perspective. A universal perspective. Such a point of reference dissolves conflict and makes most of our concerns and squabbles seem irrelevant.
– Related to perspective is humility. If seeing how small the world is compared to the universe is perspective, then realising how tiny you are in comparison to the world and the universe is humility. Humility is not over-estimating the impact and importance of your actions and decisions. It’s not getting caught up in your own story. It’s seeing yourself as playing a minor role in the play of existence.
– If you like cheese, and I like cheese, we have a common interest. If I like books and you like books, we’re going to like each other a little bit more. Common interests draw us together.
– If two people both survive a car crash, there’s a connection between them. If two people practice, train and compete together in a sport at college, they have common ground. They have a shared experience. And as anyone who’s run, or been a part of, a team will tell you, common experiences strengthen relationships.
– “I wonder…” This phrase is a significant part of the curious person’s vocabulary. They read a book and say, “I wonder…” They go to a place and say, “I wonder…” They meet an individual and say, “I wonder…” Every situation is an opportunity for exploration and discovery, for learning more. Every scenario is a chance to understand and dig deeper, to get closer.
– Love is acceptance. It’s welcoming the object of your love exactly as it is, and not wishing any alteration upon it. It’s taking the person or the thing as they are, the good and the bad, and caring for them all the same. Love, more than anything, is the invisible force that draws and binds us together.
THE FORCES THAT CAN DO BOTH.
– Adversity can make us work together. In the face of opposition we can coordinate our efforts to overcome the obstacle. Or we can let the difficulties posed expose and widen the gaps between us.
– I can use my strength to help you up when you’ve fallen. To support you as you limp along. Or I can use it to push you down and keep you there.
– In a similar way, power and influence can be used for good or for ill. It can be re-invested to attain more of the same and consolidate it in a single body. Or it can be used to try and bring power to others. To help others.
– I write something that goes viral. Responses flood in. Opportunities come from everywhere. Book deals. Appearances. Chances to speak at and attend events. I make more money and gain more recognition. I could respond to this by gaining an inflated sense of my own importance and disregarding the feelings of the people around me. I could get caught up in my own success. Or I could use the assets such a situation would bring to make more time for friends and family. To look after them, rather than alienate and leave them behind.
– A mistake is an opportunity. We can use it to teach and educate and learn, or we can use it bully, cajole and manipulate.
– I can use my freedom to help you gain yours. Or I can use my freedom to impede your own.
– Books. Articles. Television. Movies. Music. All media can provoke conflict or reconcile it. For centuries, media has been used as a tool to divide and as a mechanism to combine and strengthen.
– Technology is neutral. It allows us to fight wars more effectively, to kill with greater efficiency. But it also allows us to save and preserve life. It makes our world interdependent and vulnerable. But it also makes it easier to recover from and survive in such a world.
– Is there anything more divisive than religion? Anything more brutal than the wars waged on behalf of this or that belief? I don’t think so. But religion is just an amalgamation of ideas and stories. Ideas and stories are way more potent in their power to divide and pull together than religion.
All the above—the forces that push us apart, the forces that pull us together, and the forces that do both—operate on a timeline. And it is time that is the ultimate invisible force.
It is time whose passing will decide whether the bonds between us strengthen or decay. It is time whose hand sows the seed of conflict and plants the fruit of unity. But what prevails—conflict and decay, or unity and strength—with the passing of time is up to us. We can choose to align ourselves with the forces that tear us apart. Or we can choose to fight for the invisible forces that bring us closer together. Which will it be?