“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
That’s the way I memorized Newton’s third law, probably when I was in Mr. Pierce’s 7th grade physical science class. Newton’s law is inviolable truth for the properties and movement of matter in the physical world — and whether Newton knew it or not it is equally applicable to matters of Spirit.
So when you walk down the street and say, in good Southern-ese, “Hey y’all, how’s it goin’!” (which is a salutation, not a question), Newton’s “Spiritual” law is in full force. Oh, you cannot measure that action, or its reaction, with instruments or mathematics, but you can usually see it on someone’s face. Likewise, if you cut off someone in traffic, and they give you “the finger,” the reaction sends ripples of another kind of energy, a chain whose effect is not always noticed, but which accumulates.
The effect of these daily interactions, positive and negative, accumulates to our Collective Soul.
The Collective Soul is an ethos woven together of the actions and reactions of very physical real people, living in very real places, walking through a very tangible time — but like all matters of Spirit, it is a force that can only be felt, not seen. As individuals, we tend our Collective Soul, and our Soul tends, and tunes, and turns us.
And now, more than ever, our Collective Soul needs tending.
There is a mean spirit in the air. We are divided more and more as we retrench deeper into our ideological and partisan and sectarian enclaves, and this only makes it worse as we convince and indoctrinate our biases by listening only to those voices that tell us what we already believe, to self-selected “news” that only reinforces our own prejudices.
Our Collective Soul gathers bottom-up, an emergence from the grass-roots, but it is surprisingly and frighteningly impressionable from the top down.
A corporate CEO just told me about a recent incident in his company. Veteran staffers were entertaining some interns when the dinner conversation turned to jokes, which turned raunchy and just kept getting raunchier. Not surprisingly, one of the female interns began to feel that she, being a woman, had become the punch line of most of the inappropriate raunchiness.
The next day she took her well-justified offense to the company attorney. “In all my years … this has never happened before,” the CEO told me. “I just believe it is related to what we’re hearing from the top.” He wasn’t referring to their corporate headquarters, but to the White House.
Of course, that may be an over reach. Why would a group of highly educated professional men, after representing the company respectfully for years, suddenly decide that vulgar jokes disparaging women and their bodies — told in the presence of a woman — were appropriate for public discourse?
On second thought, why would they not?
More important than policy, is person and personality. More powerful than any executive order is executive oration, formal and informal, speech and tweet, diplomatic addresses and press conferences. Much more influential for a nation than corporate success is the way words and tone, the spoken and unspoken language of a leader shapes our Collective Soul.
With every indignant justification to ban some of our neighbors, our Collective Soul gets angrier. With every short-sighted defense of walling out our “enemies,” we become more self-centered. With every childish, personal slight, the nation gets meaner. With every untruth promoted, we become less honest, less able to discern. With every disparaging put down, we lose a bit of our self-respect.
Our Collective Soul needs tending, and I don’t have much hope the action is going to change from the top, which means the reaction across the nation, especially from people of faith, needs to be equal — and opposite.
Let’s hope we can always count on Mr. Newton.