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Finding common ground in a sea of isolation

POSTED November 9, 2010 10:57 p.m.

“No man is an island,” begins the famous poem of the same name by John Donne.

Many people have heard the quote, accepted it or summarily dismissed it, and moved on with their lives.

I’ve been thinking about that line a lot though, recently. It may have something to do with the current political climate.

The phrase gained traction in the public consciousness perhaps because of its seeming lack of logic. We are, of course, all people unto ourselves, our own separate, floating islands with our own hopes and dreams, secrets and defeats.

Unlike Donne’s assertion that “every man / is a piece of the continent,” I think we could perhaps best be described as an archipelago. A Federated States of Micronesia, of sorts.

Connecting one person to another is no small task. There’s no land bridge uniting myself and a stranger passing by on the street. We are, for all intents and purposes, wholly separate.

But with great effort, bridges can be built from one island to another. The cost is extraordinary, shouldered by both atolls. Sacrificed time, money, and thought for the end result, an open exchange of information and resources and a mutual respect and caring.

When we build these bridges, we can accomplish great things. We become stronger. We transform from a lone voice, drowned out by ocean waves, into a united front able to rise above the crashing surf.

These bridges are tenuous, though, susceptible to the tsunamis of malleable moods. A link from one person to another can be washed away, irreparably harmed beyond repair, with one seemingly inconsequential conversation.

So we strive to build into larger and larger interconnected swarms of islands, ones more permanent. We declare ourselves “Democrats” or “Republicans” so our words and thoughts have a chance of being heard over the other side, so that we become greater by association.

But for some reason, those on one side and those on the other never seem willing to chance a span connecting the two largest interconnected groups. If one does, he or she often finds himself cut off from the whole, alone in the world once again.

If we were truly each “a piece of the continent,” we would work toward a common goal. But our allegiances lie with our closely-connected nation-states, rather than the fate of the archipelago as a whole.

I wonder if, for all the modern inventions of cell phones, Facebook, and e-mail, we are now more islands than ever before. There’s no need to build difficult relationships with people who differ from us when we have easy access to scores of like-minded fellows.

So we’ve become increasingly insular, avoiding any information that contradicts our sect’s mantras. We’ve built needles sea walls and fortifications, fending off an enemy that wants the same things as us –just through different means.

I hope the sun starts shining brighter. I hope the oceans boil away.

Because only then, when the water is gone, can we see that we’re all standing on the same ground underneath it all.

To build a bridge to the island known as Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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