Comment: I began to write this as a prologue for my upcoming novel Edge of Smoke, however, it began to become much more than a prologue for the book, and I think it stands alone at this point. I will rewrite the prologue for Edge of Smoke, but I want to put this out there as an essay that describes what the fictional story is oriented toward. Watch for the release of Edge of Smoke probably sometime in 2024. As with all my novels, each contains an encounter between the protagonist and another character, and that character then tells the next story. So, a character identified in The Calling Dream (Stephanie), now tells her story in Edge of Smoke.
Human beings like labels, niches, and categories, don’t we? We like to define all things, including people. We like to know when we pick up a can labeled beans that beans are what we are going to find inside. We don’t want to open the can to find corn or tomatoes. We want what we expect. It seems to comfort us if we can have niches where things neatly fit, a square peg in a square hole, a round peg in a round hole. If it doesn’t fit, we often try to force it instead of allowing a square peg to be a square peg. We expect to be able to categorize each other in this same way. We expect to be able to force people into the category that we assume for them, and if that square peg doesn’t fit into the round hole, and we can’t force it, we either discard it or try to eliminate it rather than let the square peg be the square peg without a square hole. We don’t like things that don’t fit our concept of what fitting means.
We have niches and categories that we expect people to fit into. What is your income? What is your job? What state were you born in? Where did you grow up? What family did you come from? What religion do you practice? What is your political party? Are you liberal or conservative? What is your name? What is your football team? What race are you? What ethnicity are you? What sexual orientation are you? Do you classify yourself with the gender of your birth? Were you born in Honduras? Are you Chinese? Are you friend or foe? Are you savior, saint, devil, or wretch? The categories go on and on. We want to know if others are one of us or one of them, and if we conclude that they are not one of us, the temptation is to either discard them or destroy them, at the very least, to hate them for being different, because, if they don’t fit with our definition and label, they must therefore be devil, wretch, or foe. They could not possibly be a friend, especially when we never give them a chance to be. So, when anyone thinks in terms of us and them, no one who is not classified as one of us is allowed to be our friend or granted our approval, much less our love, and understanding.
Perhaps this goes back to the days of tribes, where different groups staked out their territory, and defended themselves. They had to band together lest another tribe would come to raid their village, kill their children, rape their women, and take their goods. The method for survival was to stick together. Then, the next time the other guys try to steal our wheat, we can fight them off as a unified group. Let’s face it, these defenses were necessary because human beings have always created alliances based on the fact that human beings have always tried to take from each other rather than share with each other. The early admonishments of civilizations not to steal were efforts, perhaps, to move beyond the barbaric practices of tribal conflicts. Nonetheless, conflict has always persisted in humanity because human beings continue to have an inherent urge to fall into differentiating us from them. As well, the continuation of the temptation to take from others has persisted, though it manifests on a much larger scale through colonialism and the building of empires rather than the petty skirmishes of tribes.
Human beings have had untold centuries of thinking in terms of friend or foe/us or them. In order to survive, we first had to define ourselves from the other guys. Are you with us or against us? This may have been necessary for survival during tribal days, but today is different. Today, us versus them is more likely to be a product of greed and selfishness, because one of the biggest temptations of a human being is the illusion of power or superiority. What is important to understand is that power and superiority are, at their very core, only illusions because people confuse power with authority or control, and superiority can only be an assumption of the ego. Authority cannot be power because it may be granted, or we may grant it to ourselves, especially if we consider ourselves to be superior, but authority is not true power because authority can be taken away.
In truth, we all possess one and only power and we all possess it equally. That is the power to choose what we will think, say, or do in this moment and this moment only. Because we all possess this one and only equal power, we are, therefore, all equal in value. We may not know that we are of equal value. In fact, the majority of us continually question our worth, whether we admit it or not, because the majority of us are continually trying to live up to the role that we were taught we must play. Because of this, we may need the drug of feeling superior to others, lest our own feelings of inferiority be revealed, especially to ourselves. We may need to unite ourselves with those whom we perceive to be superior or of like mind so they will grant us, by assimilation or fraternization, some level of their perceived superiority. We are therefore more likely to follow someone who claims to be superior than to think for ourselves. We are more likely to align ourselves with a winning ball team, some political candidate, or an entertainment star than to take a truthful look at ourselves. That alignment may give us a momentary surge of feeling a kinship with superiority, but it always fades.
Those of us who have the strongest need for superiority are the least likely to admit it because admitting we need the drug of superiority would mean admitting how inferior we actually feel. Instead, we go blindly about declaring, at least to ourselves, that we are, at the very worst, better than whomever we perceive to be them. Those who feel most inferior are the ones who most need a ‘them’ to look down on and condemn. We may go to great lengths to prove to ourselves that we are better than them because of their race, ethnicity, country of origin, socioeconomic level, education, or our determination that their behavior is immoral. We may push ourselves to excel so we can claim the baton of superiority. Many of us try to prove that we must have some modicum of value by demeaning others, so that no matter how low we feel, at least we are not one of them. What we then fail to realize is that those who are truly confident have nothing to prove. So, if we have a need to prove ourselves superior to anyone, we cannot be truly confident.
The need for control of others is always based on fear, whether or not there is any legitimate reason for that fear. If they are different, therefore not one of us, if they behave in a way, or present in a way that does not fit what we were conditioned to believe, they must therefore be feared, must by assumption be our enemy, and either controlled or destroyed. Usually, we do this without considering that those we wish to control and condemn are of equal value as human beings and therefore deserve the same rights that we would claim for ourselves. To have an excuse for control, we must first define them as separate and inferior. In cases when we define them as extremely inferior, perhaps subhuman, or not human, we may give ourselves permission to destroy them, but this is the absolute pinnacle of ego-feeding human arrogance.
In order to control them, we may attempt to manipulate or influence similar others in order to get those others to join our cause, perhaps huge groups of others. We may need to solicit and fool those who don’t engage their time with critical thinking into joining us. We may plan efforts to control ahead of time, seduce great crowds with fervor and lies, and for a time, perhaps be quite successful at feeding our addiction to feeling superior, while we feed the crowds on the illusion that they too are superior because, at the very least, they are not one of them. Yet, in the end, all illusions must crumble, and those who have utilized hateful and destructive means to exalt themselves always find themselves among the despised, not for being different but for soliciting and engaging in acts of malice and evil.
Control is an illusion because no one can control the past, the future, or the mind of another human being. The past is gone the instant it occurs, and although we can plan, no one can determine what will happen, even in the next second. So-called brainwashing is merely a technique for manipulation utilizing certain traits and habits of human thinking. It still does not determine what we choose to think. Although we may tend to follow the crowd and fall in line with those who are like us, our thought remains our choice. Although we may make expected choices in order to alleviate pain and torture, it is still a choice we make. We all choose what we think, even if that is based on our conditioning, and no one can take the choice from us, for in every moment, we are granted another choice. Yet, we were all trained and indoctrinated into our choices and behavior. We were trained at a time when we didn’t realize that we had a choice, and although small children may question, they do not have the maturity to discern. They learn what they are taught, from the ABCs to what they are told they must think and how they must behave. Few deviate as children, and if they do, it is likely due to an issue with their brains, not their consciousness. In order to think something other than what we were indoctrinated to think, we would have to be willing to question and examine our own indoctrination and few of us are willing to do that. Therefore, more often than not, our illusions are not freely surrendered but shattered, when at last they collide with the wall of reality and this is an emotionally excruciating thing to endure. As well, beliefs continue to clash with other beliefs because it is the only thing that a defended belief can do. Ultimately all conflict is the result of one belief pitted against another.
On the other side of greed, selfishness, and the illusions of power and superiority, there is a global awareness that is beginning to confront the concept of tribe and superiority while some people vehemently cling to the illusion of us versus them. Selfishness and the temptation to the illusion of power are among the reasons why they cling to the concept of separation. The basic definition of a cult is the notion of us versus them taken to the extreme. We are special; they are not. We are superior; they are not. We are the chosen; they are not. Yet, those same people forget that no one has exclusive rights to life or to God. Still, there is a movement underway to define that we are all part of humanity, all part of a vast and complex system where things don’t fit neatly into labels, categories, and niches. There are currently over seven billion of us on mother earth with over seven billion distinct variations of humanity. No two people, even identical twins, are ever exactly alike, especially in their experience. There are over seven billion human stories, not including those of the past. Deviations from our conditioned thinking, as well as variations of human expression and experience, are inevitable. Those alternatives of humanity do not deserve our condemnation but our recognition, acceptance, and compassion.
Some still cling assiduously to the concept of separation, fearing anyone who might be different, casting them into the shadows of society where they can rot in hell as far as we are concerned. Our society tends to cast them into the shadows, and then punish them for being there, not because they have less value as human beings but because they don’t fit the mold that our particular segment of society prescribes, and are therefore perceived as having less value as human beings. If they don’t fit the mold, they must therefore be inferior, our enemy, or both. The problem is that the same God that made us made them. Yet, in our addiction to superiority, we dare to perceive that an omnipotent and all-powerful God must have been wrong to have created them and therefore requires our intervention. Nonetheless, we are all children of the same creator, no matter how we seek to define the creator, ourselves, or others, no matter whether we insist on fitting others into our mold or accept each other as beloved children of God. Let us never forget that no matter how we choose to define another human being, it cannot be truly who they are or how they define themselves, and we all have the right and the choice to define ourselves regardless of any other definition of us. I am not, nor will I ever be your opinion of me, and whether I was created differently or live my life differently does not mean that I have less value than you.
Influences from childhood on our developing beliefs are powerful, and we may look at one another and see differences and separation because that is how we were indoctrinated. Yet, we are more genetically and emotionally alike than any perceived differences, but those tiny differences divide us to the extreme, and the human ego tempts us to judge and hate those who are different. Our beliefs are a product of our conditioning, and what is important to understand about beliefs is that no belief can be true, even if it is a belief about the truth. Beliefs vary from individual to individual although we may share some beliefs in common. Yet, no two people ever have the exact same beliefs, and this is why we argue. Beliefs can be argued but truth is irrefutable. Once truth is recognized, there can be no argument. The good news is that beliefs can change if we are willing to examine them instead of clinging to them and defending them. The problem is that most of us cannot define the difference between belief and truth, nor do we ever examine the difference or question it. Instead, we believe as we were taught to believe. We live as we were taught to live.
If you are born in Iran or China, you have a much lower chance of being a Christian than if you are born in The United States or European Countries. We are all indoctrinated into our beliefs and worldview from the time we are old enough to comprehend, and who is to say that the indoctrination of one is superior or inferior to the indoctrination of another? Our beliefs vary from individual to individual, family to family, region to region, country to country, religious denomination to religious denomination, etc. Many of us were trained never to question, but to simply accept that the beliefs we were indoctrinated into can only be the right and true beliefs. Most of us grow up thinking in terms of us and them because we are taught to define differences rather than look for commonality. Many of us are trained from early childhood to resent, hate, or at least judge people who are different from us. Yet, our commonality far outweighs our differences, and all beliefs can be brought into question.
Most of us never question the beliefs that we were indoctrinated into from an early age which include beliefs about ourselves, beliefs about others, and beliefs about everything else—money, sex, marriage, gender, friends, family, religion, education, politics; you name it. We simply operate under our beliefs while we are convinced that what we believe is the truth. We suffer from the illusion of superiority or inferiority to others. We count ourselves as worth more than them because___. We count ourselves as worth less than them because___. We especially hate when others don’t seem to measure up to our own moral standards and forget that those morals were indoctrinated into us from our first moment of comprehension. Regardless of our moral standards, they are our standards, for us to follow rather than standards to be imposed on others. If we choose to follow those morals, that is our right, but we never have the right to insist that others must follow the same path that we have followed, and we most assuredly never have the right to force others to follow the path that we have followed. For to do so would assume that we have greater authority than God.
Most of us never make the slightest effort to walk a mile in the shoes of the other or try to understand their plight or experience. We judge human books by their human covers and refuse to look inside. Perhaps we are afraid of what we might see in the mirror of their existence and experience. You see, we are all mirrors of one another. Whatever we hate in another is something that we don’t want to acknowledge, and may even hate in ourselves. Perhaps we hate the other because their life is antithetical to the beliefs we were indoctrinated into, and as long as we assume that our beliefs are superior, we will continue to hate them. Perhaps we hate them because they dare to defy the rules that we have been taught to prescribe for ourselves. Perhaps they live as we would never dare to live; which is not that they express themselves differently, but live as themselves while we chain ourselves to our beliefs and indoctrination. Whatever we love in another is something that we have come to acknowledge and love in ourselves or something we admire in them, something we aspire to. If we dare to get to know them, dare to look beyond the surface and deep within, we may see a glimmer of ourselves, perhaps even learn to break the chains of feeling inferior and needing the illusion of superiority. Perhaps we might even see love in them being reflected back to us.
The human book that we most fear looking into is our own, and maybe we also fear those who have been willing to look inside themselves. Maybe we fear those who are willing to be true to themselves despite their indoctrination or our own. For if we do what they have done, look into ourselves, and be true to ourselves, would we find something we love and cherish or something we fear and hate? Would we have to face our own sense of shame that we can never live up to the expectations that have been placed on us? We tend to resent those who have the courage to be themselves while we fit ourselves into the roles that we have been assigned throughout life. How dare they love themselves, stand up and be themselves when who they are does not fit with our own beliefs, our concept of morals, or our expectations? We never consider that it is possible and necessary to love ourselves and challenge our own roles and beliefs at the same time and that the mirror of their experience is a call to learn to love ourselves as many of them have done. If they have broken free and have been able to free themselves of the internalized bigotry that our indoctrination prescribes for them, then they come to love themselves for who they are, not what others think they are, and they come to value themselves despite hatred and condemnation that continues to be cast against them.
It is our own shame that we most fear to examine. Most of us are actors who never let the world see who we really are, and most of us are terrified of those people who do let the world see who they really are. They have the courage that the rest of us cannot seem to muster. They have the courage to risk disapproval. They have the courage to break free from constraints that we defend rather than ever question. Yet, they are often also the members of society who can engage with genuine love the most, because when anyone can love and accept themselves, it is easier to love and accept others. When anyone cannot love and accept themselves, it is more difficult to love and accept others. When we perceive superiority or inferiority rather than equality, it is difficult to love and accept ourselves or others. When we accept our assigned beliefs and roles without question, we may feel a little safer, but at what cost to ourselves and to others; at what cost to love? Doing what we are expected to do may seem safe. It may prevent us from being attacked by those who continue to follow their expected roles and beliefs and live as they are expected to live, but it is always at the risk of never learning to truly love who we, ourselves, really are.
Unfortunately, life and the human experience, do not have neat little niches, regardless of our attempts to create them. Oh sure, a rose is a rose and it is not likely to produce cucumber flowers. It is what it is, but people are what they are as well, despite the roles they play for others. The difference is that a rose can’t pretend to be something it is not, but people can. If others are unable to force themselves into something that they are not, or they don’t want to, we would rather they pretend to be what we want them to be than allow them to be themselves. We may feel safer when we can convince them to play the role that we have assigned them. Then, we think we know what to expect. Yet, even when they play their expected role, we have an underlying awareness of their truth, and we still count them as separate, even if they are members of our own family, our own community, or attend our own church.
Beneath all the garbage that we are taught, all that was dumped on us from early childhood, our true authentic self, the self that is beyond our concept of value, the self that shares the exact same value as everyone else is always present and always has been. You can throw a diamond in the trash but that cannot change the value of the diamond. Our worth is not diminished by others dumping their trash on us. Our value remains forever as the universe created it, no matter how others treat us or what they think about us. Whether they praise us or condemn us, our value remains the same. If our presentation to the world doesn’t quite match the expectations that others have for us, then that does not mean that we have to change or that we have to play a role in order to appease them. Nor does it mean that we are in any way of less value to life or to God than they are. True self-esteem is the recognition of our exact equality with all others, no matter who they are. When we recognize this, we recognize that no one in the world is superior to us, no matter what they think, and no one in the world is inferior to us, no matter what they think. We recognize that we have a right to be ourselves, to be true to ourselves, and to live our lives without being pressured to become what others expect, or attacked because we don’t fit the mold of their indoctrinated beliefs.
Humanity is like smoke. There are varying levels of density and shades, as smoke dissipates into and becomes the air, but how do you know when smoke ceases to be smoke and becomes the air? How do you define the edge of smoke? How do you define what part of the smoke is different from another part? Some portions may seem darker than others, but those portions are still smoke. Human beings may seem different from each other, but they are still human beings. The eyes alone cannot discern when, exactly, smoke blends into the air. Even though it appears that the smoke is separate from the air it dissolves into the whole and is no longer recognized as separate. In the end, we all blend into one unified human race despite all the variations that occur. In the end, we are all more the same than we are different, in truth, more united than we are separate. In the meantime, human beings keep wanting to create niches and roles that they try to force others into because it helps them to feel safe in their own assigned role or they resent not being unable to break free from their engrained expectations of what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a Christian or a Muslim, etc. When we have a society that fully embraces our differences, and our uniqueness rather than fearing and hating it, when we allow people to simply live their lives in peace and be who they are without oppression, we will finally have a civilized society. In truth, there is no us and them, there is only WE the people.