The Other Mind

To get a nut on a bolt is a pedestrian task, the sort of thing that happens all the time. But when the bolt can not be seen, sticks out at a weird angle and requires a stack of washers, say a grounding brass, wide steel and a lock washer held in place while the nut is started it gets interesting. For all my socializing I am essentially a loner; there is rarely an extra set of hands around to assist with these things. Long ago, while installing an exhaust on a recalcitrant 1974 VW bus I discovered a trick for these moments; close your eyes. Don’t just not look at the metal panel behind the motor, but stop looking at anything.

As the visual inputs stop other information will travel faster: touch, abstract reasoning, fine motor control will take over and the delicate task of balancing sever metal wafers on one nut will become possible. Do it a thousand times and it becomes if not easy at least easier. Different parts of our brain are associated with different functions, but this is just an organizational structure we use; software not hardware for you young people. The paths are like roads and if all the cars are gone the street can fill with bikes and pedestrians. Humans rely heavily on visual information and useless visual information will overwhelm quieter inputs, even if they are more meaningful. So I have learned in these moments to close my eyes and breath out, visualizing that cannot be seen, and let my hands feel as my eyes might see; building a topographical map in my mind. This is how blind people learn to use sound to judge distances, recognize people by their smell, memorize the order of their house by steps and walls. It is the magic of how brains work.

Humans evolved to hunt and gather by sight; to avoid predators because we could see them first. We also learned to divide the world into friend and not-friend, build piles of “them” and “us”. Our people were friends, other people were to be treated with suspicion. We pet dogs and fear wolves although they are genetically nearly identical because have made dogs one of “us”. Understanding the motives of those who are not us is difficult and confusing. Often we don’t see where they are coming from. This is tribalism, and it worked for a very long time. People take care of one another in their tribe, protect each other from outsiders and share resources. Social scientists say that the minimum human tribe in pre-industrial societies is around twenty. As our world becomes complex so do our social needs; you rely on everyone who has touched your food, built or fixed your car, cut the trees for your house, milled the lumber and so on, and they on rely you. Your money buys their food, helps build their home. Thousands of people are required to make the device you are reading this blog on. Tribalism doesn’t work so well for this world because people who live half a world away rely on you and you on them. We also share one atmosphere, one water cycle, one planet. A new understanding is required, because either we shall all live together or all die separately.

Over the years I have often heard “I cannot understand how” so many times; cannot understand people who are Gay, Transgendered, Atheist, Christian, Liberal, Conservative. It’s a cop out; like throwing the wrench down and walking away from the problem. But the bolt is not the problem any more than the washer or nut. The bolt is where it needs to be and while I have cursed many a German engineer in my life they did make a marvelous and efficient little beast that chugged on sounding like a can full of nickels from the late 1930’s until the last air-cooled Van rolled off an assembly line in Brazil in 2013; from the era of biplanes until after the last Concorde flight. The problem is generally the nut between the wheel and the drivers seat.

There was a time that not-understanding was OK; you could just move to a different town or state, maybe get together and oppress the different people there as the Pilgrims did in New England. They went from being beaten and jailed by Anglicans to beating and jailing Quakers and giving smallpox infested blankets to Native Americans. The world is smaller and smaller and there is nowhere to run to; and even if you do chances are the people you fear are still connected to you. We may fear Chinese economic hegemony but they still make a lot of our stuff. We have to make sure their needs are met as surely as we must meet our own. You may not like any group but chances are members of that group are making your food, fixing your car or teaching your kids right now. Accepting is imperative; there is no surviving without it.

To accept is the same as to understand. We can accept a person is a certain way something and not understand it, but accept them will give us insight in how to meet halfway. So the next time you feel that you cannot understand close your eyes. Accept how it is whether you understand the why of it. Some years ago a family member came out as transgendered and I will admit I struggled with this. When you know someone as one way for your whole life changing perceptions isn’t easy. After some thought it came to me that understanding why wasn’t my job; being a family member was my job, dealing with the change was my job. Letting them express themselves was my job safely. Not that I managed this gracefully (grace is not my thing) I think I did OK, we are still talking anyway. I don’t understanding men being attracted to other men; but accepting that there are and they pose no existential threat to my marriage or family is all I have to do. Maybe you think God has an opinion on the matter; trust that God can carry God’s own water and move on. The last word I heard from God on the matter was “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and I will stick with that.

It helps to close your eyes; imagine their life, assume they are good and well-intentioned as most people are, and let go your need to know why. You cannot form what is based on what you understand, but rather you must understand how things are to learn why things are. Maybe they will understand why people are a certain way but understanding why I am so tall will not ever make me shorter, nor the gay straight for the trans/intersex cis-gendered, the liberal conservative or vice versa. We are all as beautiful and perfectly imperfect as nature intended; the end result of chance, evolution and or the hand of God as you prefer. Accept and move on; they are your tribe they share this sphere and we are all in this together. Use the other mind; the one that seeks connection, loves and rejoices in shared experience.

With the bolt there will come a moment when you get it all, the location the angle and pitch. Your hand will move in just the right way because you are part of the picture and the whole thing will slip together just as some distant German designer intended, and it will be perfect. It doesn’t come easily but it is always worth the effort.

“Come to terms with your ass for it bears you” – John Muir.




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