Common Ground

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A wise man once said, "those who are awake have one world in common, those who are asleep live each in a private world."2 Perhaps this one world, this common ground, is that area outside of our castles; and when we are able to step out of our front door - to leave our position behind - we become truly "awake." Awake in this sense would mean untangled from self-interest, from the concerns that go along with living in a castle. After all, a castle can often be self-perpetuating; it provides comfort, a place to live - but if we are to continue living within it then we must maintain it, and, when necessary, we must defend it. To step outside of the castle is to put its demands in perspective, to see that looking after our castle may not be the be-all and end-all. Thus, in many ways, to enter the common ground is to become liberated.

With this in mind, when we are faced with the behaviour of others we can ask; does this behaviour come from within a position, or does it come from without - are they still standing in their castle, or are they in common ground? In short, is their behaviour entrenched or transcendent? Because to understand where behaviour comes from, is to be able to form a more nuanced approach towards it.

We've seen that we all have our positions, our castles within which we exist. We've examined the ideas of monotheism and polytheism and how these outlooks can affect the way we see others' positions as well as our own. We've seen that understanding a person's position can make us more amenable to their 'otherness', but we've also seen the importance of having our own position challenged. Having seen these castles, our own and those of others - and having seen the distance between them - we must be willing to leave our structures for a while, and to take a trip. We must be willing to knock on some doors, and to ask to come in.

In the last, it may be that no-one has a sovereign position, that no-one is so enlightened so as to see the full workings of our ecosystem. The monotheistic view may make us believe that this view does exist, but it leaves us in no doubt that there is only one who is able to see this way: God. With its pantheon of gods, polytheism blows this model apart, allowing us to structure our thought in a different way; one that may be more in line with a world that has at its heart no certainties, and no definitive positions.

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2 Heraclitus, as paraphrased by John Fowles in The Aristos, p.216

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In fact, how can we let ourselves be moved to pity unless by transporting ourselves outside ourselves and identifying ourselves with the suffering animal, by quitting, so to speak, our own being in order to assume his?

The commiseration will be the more energetic, the more intimately the spectator identifies himself with the sufferer [...] It is therefore quite certain that compassion is a natural feeling which moderates in every individual his self-esteem, and contributes to the mutual preservation of the entire race.

[Jean-Jacques Rousseau]
Émile, p.115-20
Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, p. 92, 94