Last week at work our editor brought a controversial decision to us for consultation. Some of us saw things very strongly and simply, while others of us saw more shades of gray. Afterward, I walked out with a coworker who was still worked up from the discussion hours earlier. We had been discussing something near and dear to his heart, something by which he defined his identity.
“I don’t know if I’m shaking because it’s cold or because I’m still upset,” he told me.
I rubbed his arm and, lightly, told him, “Be at peace. Don’t let this ruin your night.”
“Thanks for being on my side,” he said in way of goodbye as we went our separate ways.
“I’m on everyone’s side,” I called back.
The next Saturday I spent the day with my mom, shopping at Lowe’s and working with power tools in the garage. Mom related the latest family squabble to me. Grandma came down firmly on the side of her blood relative, while Mom had compassion for the in-laws and tried to point out that Grandma didn’t have every side of the story.
“What other side would there be?!” she demanded.
“Well, Mary and her family’s side,” Mom told her.
I shook my head as we unloaded lumber from the back of Mom’s Jeep. “There are no sides,” I replied to Mom.
This is the root of suffering – division. It is the illusory belief that there is an “us” and a “them,” an “I” and “everybody else,” that there is something to be “for” or “against.” I fall into this trap just as often as everyone else. At that meeting, I certainly had an opinion, but I didn’t feel as though I was defined by that opinion. I didn’t have a side to be on. The discussion wasn’t about “me,” though I often wonder if my reaction would be different if it were about something by which I define my so-called identity. Perhaps I would feel like my Grandma if this was my direct descendant embroiled in the struggle.
Even so, I hope I would remember that there are no sides.