Having stated my intention to be curious rather than judgemental, I find myself in a dilemma about what I am sensing and observing. I am concluding that in our western culture, at least the rendition of it that is my world, Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest” is an apt description of how we function as a community. Could it be that individualism, self-sufficiency and innate competitiveness are overtaking the humanitarian traits of consideration for others, compassion and empathy? The foundations for connection – the glue that holds us together. This is my fear.

I am finding myself envious of cultures that revere their elders and share multigenerational homes. The demonstration of inclusion and benevolence is in contrast to my life experience. However, the pandemic has forced many families to temporarily accommodate aging parents, adult children, and vulnerable relatives. Almost unanimously I hear unexpected joy and thankfulness to have the time together. The construction surge is to make more space, not just for home offices. I am heartened by this trend.

The business of building flat “comfortable” cubicles with unfamiliar caregivers to look after our compromised seniors is a phenomenon of our western society. While we know from the studies of longevity that community is the key contributor to health and well-being as we age, my parents slid into ill health and isolation as my siblings and I followed the social norm protocols. Now I wonder if we could have been more thoughtful and compassionate. I wonder if I was too wrapped up in my own definition of survival to consider options other than separating them and moving Mom into a home miles away from us. My eyes were always blurry as I pulled out of the parking lot and looked up to see her attempt to wave, not really knowing if I was down there. And my throat would sometimes catch as I pleaded over the telephone with my fading away father to have a protein shake. 

In pondering the characteristics of human nature as I have experienced them over my life, I have memories of the surges of realization that while we may gather together, it’s often everyone for themselves. These are conflicting energies that I struggle to understand. Knowing that perhaps I own them alone.

As I purposefully become deliberate, take time to reflect, and work on being mindful – lest experiences slip by without notice and appreciation, I am aware of the heartbeat of “get moving, tick off the box of accomplishment, and keep up or be left behind.” Held back by any one of a number of reasons, the commitment to be present and enjoy the solitude is sometimes a challenging mental exercise. 

I am reading a book called The Mystery of Right and Wrong. While it’s a complex and disturbing story, the title has me confronting the grey area that I live in. Clearly, Darwin’s study of animals proves the necessity of adaptation for survival. I’m struggling with knowing whether his theories leave room for human needs and emotions. What happens to the person who is having difficulty climbing the steep hill? What happens to the inexperienced who can’t manage the equipment, let alone the pace and impatience?  What happens to the one who needs someone to walk beside them, rather than in front of them? Will we notice? Will we slow down, stop, care? 

I’m searching for the middle ground. The place of appreciating individual needs, motivations and energies. And deepening my understanding of compassion so that I can solve the mystery of what is right and wrong for me. 

At least, that is my experience.