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We're All in This Together

by Mandy Osterhaus Ream about a year ago in happiness
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A grandiose, and desperate, attempt to reclaim one over-used phrase.

We're All in This Together
Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

As we slowly settle into a new administration, emerge from pandemic restrictions, and attend to the ongoing critical work of antiracism (to name just a few light issues in the zeitgeist), I want to champion a phrase I think has transformative powers. Just five simple words.

We’re All in This Together.

Arguing for this concept is not an empty, vapid band-aid to cover critical issues that require painful examination. This is not suggested as a sugar-coated cliché to distract from imperative discussions about toxic systems and ideologies.

Rather, I am offering this as a foundational approach towards one another on small and big platforms as an alternative to vitriol and isolation.

Perhaps this is a desperate Hail-Mary pass by an optimistic citizen hoping to awaken our better instincts. Perhaps it’s risky to advocate for an arguably over-used phrase. But there is so much hope and possibility in human interaction that it’s worth jumping into the deluge of commentary and discussion to offer one more idea for your consideration:

We’re All in This Together.

To know me is to know this phrase has been a bit of a tagline of mine for the last decade.

Starting with a desire to strengthen connections in a local elementary school, I began to explore the possibility of approaching fellow humans with a very intentional mindset, one that emphasizes community and solidarity in a common endeavor: sharing planet earth.

I encouraged people to actually say these words to one another, or to themselves, as an antidote to road rage or snarky comments or political divisions or neighbor disputes.

The phrase is not a panacea but it holds possibilities, and I think many of us are open to possibilities right now.

In March, when the world began to shut down, I saw these words everywhere. After my order in the McDonalds drive-thru, passing a Gap, on the cover of People magazine. My friends sent me snapshots of the phrase in all sorts of places knowing my dedication to the idea. And then, as conspicuously as it arrived, it seemed to disappear.

It is time to reintroduce this mindset into our individual and collective thinking.

We’re All in This Together.

What specifically does this look like?

A few months ago, I was having a conversation in my driveway with a neighbor I have known for nearly 20 years. I deeply respect this person and in our short talk, I realized we had very different ideas about politics and how the presidential election was playing out.

As I listened to his perspective I held “We’re All in This Together” in the forefront of my mind. This is my neighbor. We share life together on our street. We are currently able to dialogue about radical differences in our thinking. Remembering “We’re All in This Together” shaped my response to him, my posture towards him.

We both concluded that thoughtful dialogue in the driveway was both fruitful and relationally connecting. We interacted with one another in a way that communicated we are neighbors first, doing life together on our street.

It is imperative to remember the day-to-day living we do with neighbors.

There are other smaller, perhaps seemingly insignificant examples of living out “We’re all in this together,” that can also strengthen our ties.

For example, I keep this idea on my dashboard when I drive. It is extremely valuable because I can be a bit of a hothead behind the wheel.

I honed these skills in my early 20’s commuting into Washington DC, where aggressive driving is an art. Now, as I wind through the streets of my West Coast town, I am often exhorting myself to remember we’re all in this together, we’re all on these streets together. The person I am tempted to tailgate could in fact be my son’s teacher, the mail carrier, a neighbor, a former student.

Or the driver could simply be a fellow human distracted like I often am and needs the benefit of the doubt. So, I slow down, perhaps let them into my lane, and say to myself, we’re all in this together.

“We’re All in This Together” includes extending the benefit of the doubt to the humans we encounter. It suggests the other people near us might be clouded by anger, frustrations, blindspots, grief, pain, and anxiety, much like we are, maybe even more than we are.

By approaching our fellow humans with the possibility that they are not meaning to be assholes but are in fact on the journey with weighted backpacks just like us, we extend a powerful opportunity for connection and not division, for light and not dark.

Perhaps adopting the “We’re All in This Together” mindset includes pausing a moment before posting or responding on social media. Maybe it influences the words we type so that we emphasize willingness to listen and not attack.

“We’re All in This Together” can look like taking deep breaths before we yell and scream or respond sarcastically. It might mean examining our own defensiveness towards an idea before we enter the debate. Not necessarily skipping the debate, but carrying this phrase “We’re All in This Together” as an alternative fuel for the discussion.

Maybe it means understanding that some of us have a little more energy, a little more brain space, a few more resources to extend this concept to others who are barely hanging on.

It’s not a panacea but it is a possibility. Are you open to the possibility?

We certainly know that 12:01 am on January 1st did not magically transform reality. We definitely can see the responses to vitriolic rhetoric. This is not an attempt to dismiss the important work to be done in our country and democracy.

But it is a plea to consider this paradigm, “We’re all in this together,” as part of our interactions with one another moving forward.

We’re All in This Together.

There is great temptation to continue turning away from one another and looking back over our shoulders with suspicion. But is there a chance we could remember, even if for a fleeting moment, that we share our streets, our country, this continent, this planet with each other?

Perhaps we will discover that the most powerful result of moving into this perspective and approaching others with this paradigm is not that we change those around us, but that we change ourselves.

We’re All in This Together.


About the author

Mandy Osterhaus Ream

Woman in middle age. Professor. Mom to one surfer and one kid with Down Syndrome. Fireman’s wife. Writing about all of it.

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