How would you describe American political culture today?
What about the culture at your workplace?
In your family?
Are dissenting voices welcomed? How do those in authority wield their power? Do the led have a say in decisions and policies that affect them? Are their needs and interests taken into account by those who lead?
What role do you play in each of these systems? How do you contribute to the function, dysfunction, morale, and relationships in these interconnected, overlapping, inextricable and sometimes tenuous systems?
How much of these cultures do you own, do you take personal responsibility for?
I have written before about the interaction between a system and its individuals. In each of the systems I name above—our nation, your workplace, your family—you are a single individual, a node [a point at which lines or pathways intersect or branch; a central or connecting point]. You are connected, directly and indirectly, to every other node in all of your systems. Thus, you connect each of your overlapping systems to every other one. So do I. This is how we are all connected, every single one of us, and our planet.
Thus, what you do affects me, even if I have never met you, even if we live on different continents, in separate generations, speaking mutually unintelligible languages, and vice versa, for all of us.
Octavia Butler said it best:
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
So how do you change what you touch?
Do you make it better than it was? Does the change you make make you better in return?
If the only lasting truth is change, then what do we want tomorrow to look like? What about next year? What kind of world do we want our grandchildren and their grandchildren to inherit?
Are you a node that connects, using your power and love to thicken the ties between your adjacent nodes and systems, making them stronger and more resilient? Who is healthier, stronger, and happier for you having touched them? How have they then extended that health, strength and joy to others? How have you resisted destructive forces and stood in the way of systems disintegration? Whom have you protected? What did it cost you, and what did you gain? What have you earned? How will you persist? What and who hold you up? On which nodes do you lean, from which do you draw strength, and how then do you pass that strength on? How do you influence and co-create the culture around you this way?
Or are you a destructive, severing node? How do you go around blowing up connections, weakening relationship infrastructures? Maybe you don’t see it this way. Perhaps you see your work as culling, pruning, removing extraneous nodal debris, clearing the path for a more righteous supersystem to rise. What does this cost you? Is the benefit worth the price? Who are your coconspirators in this effort? How do they change you for your connections to them? How do you expect your connections to other destructive nodes to evolve? What is your impact on your systems cultures, being this way?
I suspect we all possess both poles of nodal potential. Probably most of us go about our days in relative mindlessness, speaking and acting as our surroundings and culture dictate, by convention and custom. We suppress the inner dissonance that arises when our personal instincts run counter to prevailing winds of rhetoric. We fear losing connections if our personal nodal identity reflects a different light or sounds a different note from the collective thrum. The status quo feels easier to uphold.
I posit to you today that our systems are disintegrating fast, eroded by myriad destructive nodes, spreading like slime mold on a global petri dish. I argue that our collective political culture suffers much today from these destructive nodes, and connector nodes struggle to nurture ties and maintain relationships. In such times, we may feel tempted to give in, to allow our inner rage monster to tantrum, to succumb to swelling, destructive, disconnecting culture. Indeed, it is hard to resist.
And yet, we continue. We march on.
Culture is created and maintained in each day to day interaction between all members of a system. Any individual may choose, at any time, to maintain the status quo or make a shift. It is the accumulation of multiple small shifts, simultaneously and in series, that moves a system to a new, improved state. Each day we awaken, we have a choice—an infinite series of choices—to make a shift toward connecting and strengthening our intertwined systems.
Do not wait for someone else to go first. Make the choice yourself, today, right now. Be a connecting node. Speak and act, post online, and show up in person, irrefutably, as a connector. Make your touch productive and generative, inclusive, empowering, and communal. See how this changes how others show up to you, and how that changes you for the better still. Then watch the slime mold recede before your eyes as connector node energy amplifies and restores balance.
Slime molds recur. Connecting nodes hold the line. We need you.