A key tenet of the work of Pachamama Alliance is that an old story of separation is at the heart of the crises humanity faces now, and that experiencing interconnection—with nature, with others, and with spirit—is the way through to creating a just, sustainable and fulfilling world. This month’s discussion explores the themes of separation and interconnection through two different articles by two of the most profound social commentators of our time: Brené Brown and Rebecca Solnit.

The complete articles together take approximately 20 minutes to read. For a shorter time commitment, you can explore the excerpts below to get a sense of the key themes in each article.

Vulnerability and Belonging

Brené Brown is a professor, researcher, author and speaker who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Her article America’s Crisis Of Disconnection Runs Deeper Than Politics addresses how loneliness and disconnection are at the heart of our national self-sorting into liberal and conservative enclaves unable to communicate with each other.

In the U.S., our three greatest fault lines–cracks that have grown and deepened due to willful neglect and a collective lack of courage–are race, gender, and class. These are conversations that need to happen; this is discomfort that must be felt. Still, as much as it’s time to confront these and other issues, we have to acknowledge that our lack of tolerance for vulnerable, tough conversations is driving our self-sorting and disconnection.

Can we find our way back to ourselves and to each other, and still keep fighting for what we believe in? No and yes. No, not everyone will be able to do both, simply because some people will continue to believe that fighting for what they need means denying the humanity of others. That makes connecting outside our bunkers impossible.

I do believe, however, that most of us can build connection across difference and fight for our beliefs if we’re willing to listen and be vulnerable. But if we’re not even willing to try, the value of what we’re fighting for will be profoundly diminished. True belonging has no bunkers. We have to step out from behind the barricades of self-preservation and brave the wild. When we race to our customary defenses–of political belief, race, religion, you name it–we don’t have to worry about being vulnerable or brave or trusting. We just have to toe the party line.

Finding Our Humanity Through Empathy

Rebecca Solnit is an author, essayist, and activist whose work delves into many issues including politics, environment, and culture – always from a unique angle. This article, called Not Caring is a Political Art Form, confronts the disconnection that has enabled the American political divide.

Empathy is a narrative we tell ourselves to make other people real to us, to feel for and with them, and thereby to extend and enlarge and open ourselves. To be without empathy is to have shut down or killed off some part of yourself and your humanity, to have protected yourself from some kind of vulnerability. Silencing, or refusing to hear, breaks this social contract of recognizing another’s humanity and our connectedness.

Contemplating a book of lynching photographs published a few decades ago, I imagined the white people who brought their children and picnics to the torture scenes were celebrating their numbness, their separation. The people making or consuming rape videos and misogynist porn must be doing the same. Our humanity is made out of stories or, in the absence of words and narratives, out of imagination: that which I did not literally feel, because it happened to you and not to me, I can imagine as though it were me, or care about it though it was not me.

Thus we are connected, thus we are not separate. Those stories can be killed into silence, and the voices that might breed empathy silenced, discredited, censored, rendered unspeakable, unhearable. Discrimination is training in not identifying or empathizing with someone because they are different in some way, to believe the differences mean everything and the common humanity nothing.

What comes up for you as you read these perspectives?

Where and how do you see that deepening our vulnerability and empathy could make a difference in the world?