Putting our hands together

Body: 

After a walk in a local park, my visiting South Korean friend, Jusop, and I chat happily while walking back toward my car. As we approach I begin my amateur juggler act, struggling to balance an armload of picnic supplies and jackets while reaching for my keys. In the next few moments Jusop offers me an insight I will never forget.

“Come on, let’s go!” Jusop says to me from the other side of the car, watching my awkwardness with amusement. As a successful businessman, he likes efficiency and action.

“Hold on,” I laugh. “I’ve only got two hands!”

“Now, is that right?” he playfully challenges. I glance over at him. He looks like he actually expects an answer.

There are many things I do not know in life. I can’t define a quark, bake a pastry swan or solve most calculus problems. However, in the category of things I’m pretty sure of, having just two hands seems to me a sure bet.

My hand latches onto my car keys at the bottom of my purse and I quickly slide the key into the door lock.

“Ok, I’ll bite. What do you mean?” I ask as we slip into the car.

Jusop smiles thoughtfully at me from the passenger seat and explains. “Let’s see. You have two hands and I have two hands. That makes four. My hands could have helped you. If you look around, I bet you would find many, many hands that could help you.”

Ah, I stand corrected.

Like most people in the mainstream culture of the United States, I was raised to be self-sufficient. As they say, the best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your arm. “I can do it myself!” I declare, even though perhaps doing it badly.

In this country, we value independence and individualism. Sometimes that is beneficial. But at other times we fool ourselves into thinking we can do this alone. We struggle in silence. Or we try to solve our problems through competition with each other, cutting ourselves off from the skills, talents, and gifts of those around us. In worst cases, we tear others down in an effort to lift ourselves up.

Here’s the truth of the matter, whether we admit it or not: We are not alone. We are in this together.  My friend’s comment about others being willing to help reminded me we are connected in mysterious ways.

Old science theories teach us life is about survival of the fittest. New science reveals how connected we are, exposing a system that is based on cooperation and mutual aid. Kindness, play and generosity are parts of our nature that enable smooth-functioning groups.

In his book “The Descent of Man” even Darwin admitted we are a very social species and our success heavily depends on sharing and compassion.

How we think of ourselves in relation to the world around us matters, especially during times of chaos and extremes. One day I need your hands to help me. Another day, you need mine.

All of us have more than two hands. It is time we put them together.