“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.”
I wasn’t thinking about Henry David Thoreau’s wisdom one morning outside my favorite bagel shop. I wasn’t thinking about the evolutionary psychology that fuels so much of our behavior. I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, thinking about a televised political event I was interested in attending. I hadn’t been sure how to get a ticket. Now, the process presented itself on my phone.
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I pressed my finger on the screen. I arrived at an online ticket service and followed the prompts.
When it came time to register my name, I stopped in my tracks.
I generally avoid political events.
I tend to keep my political views to myself.
Living in a time when divergent opinions are often used as weapons, I aim for a civil stance. The 2020 elections are a long way off.
There is much to learn and I want to listen. But what if someone saw me in the audience and thought me a fool? Taking the chicken way out, I backed out of the app.
I watched the cars whiz by on Shaw Avenue. I looked at the small spots of color in the planter next to me — nice, but nothing like the grand flowerbeds where my old bagel shop used to stand.
My new shop is different from the old place, even though the bagels taste exactly the same.
I saw a homeless woman pushing her cart down the sidewalk.
Thousands of pollution-sputtering vehicles passed my line of vision for every city bus. Thirty seconds passed.
We live in a city with many broken parts, a place where location is everything. Good people stand on both sides of the political fence.
“Why should I care what others think?” I argued with myself.
I tapped my phone again and followed the prompts.
By the time I got to where I needed to go, the event was sold out.
I would not be attending the town hall. Because my courage wavered, I lost an opportunity to learn.
Our need to be accepted is ingrained in our psyche, harkening back to the days of early man.
Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble were a team. They likely banded together to protect themselves against the saber-toothed tiger — not to mention the wrath of Wilma and Betty when the guys didn’t pull their weight at home.
We all want to belong. We all hate rejection. One of our most primal fears is of being abandoned. The epochs may change, but our reactions stay the same. Man’s newest version of acceptance? The dopamine spurts that silently please us as we count our “likes” on social media.
Four months ago I retired from working at a hospital where I had spent more than 30 years, a place where I belonged. I made the decision quickly and didn’t share the news broadly, although information travels. The value system within my workplace had shifted to the point that I was unable to reconcile a serious discrepancy between my own point of view and that of someone who had the right to hold an alternate opinion.
The subterranean plates had moved. I could sense the seismic fault. It was time to say good-bye.
The first Monday I didn’t have to show up for work, I ran into an acquaintance at the grocery store. As soon as I caught sight of him, I jerked my cart in the opposite direction.
Not quite fight or flight, but I felt out of place, awkward.
Was this where I supposed to be? On a trip for bananas and milk?
I hadn’t fully reconciled my true voice (telling me that it was time to leave my job) with the doubtful one (that said I should have waited until I was older).
Within seconds, I sensed my faulty logic. My wisdom hadn’t failed me. I was right where I belonged. I turned back toward my friend and we had a happy chat.
Stone Age lessons do trail us: If our feet hurt enough, we will learn to make shoes. The clearest truths will rise from our gut. We must look for the smartest voices to teach us and the safest places to belong.
The drums are beating in the distance. The saber-toothed tigers can’t hurt us once we reach the higher ground.