The Social Impulse

I took a “wrong” turn on my hike the other day and ran across this ______ (whatever it is).  There’s no explanation, and certainly no directions.  But, somehow, I immediately felt it was social, and I felt welcome to contribute.

without my contribution

I found a rock that spoke to me.  And I placed it.

I didn’t want to put it in a precarious place.  And I definitely didn’t want to risk any of it tumbling down like a giant Jenga puzzle.  I found a flat rock, and placed it on a much larger, supporting (load bearing) flat rock.  About ¾ of my rock lies on the surface of the rock under it, and about ¼ extends out, cantilever.

Just as I feel welcome to build upon what’s there, my rock and its placement invite others to build upon it.  Some extra weight placed on the supported ¾ would allow someone else to place a rock on the extended end.  And I feel good about my role in this creation.

Now that I think about it, though, it’s probably not a single, ever-accumulating structure.  Rain and wind must knock it down – or some of it.  And people will build it back up again.  One stone at a time.  And it becomes a dance.  People taking their multipart turn; then nature takes its turn.  (I was at first thinking that nature’s turn was with one devastating blow.  But it’s not true.  Nature also has a multipart turn.  Each raindrop that hits.  Each gust of wind.  One rock falls over.  Two.  Three. A mini-landslide.  A fallen rock gets shoved again and again, until the storm is over and the sun comes out and it’s the people’s turn again.)

And, like with nature’s turn, the people’s turn is not neat and orderly.  The absence of stated (let alone enforced) rules makes sure of that.  Each person who encounters it determines their own rules.

with my contribution

When I encountered it, I just knew that I could place a rock – one rock.  I chose the rock.  I chose the placement.  I chose to sit down and appreciate it, to write down these impressions.

Someone else may decide to place several rocks.  Or rearrange existing rocks.  Or tear some (or all) of it down.  Or just move on with a passing glance.

Who’s “right”?  Is “right” even meaningful here?

I invest in this thing whatever meaning I choose.  I can name it… a collaborative expression?  Rock art?  Terraforming?  I choose to allow it to move me.  As others choose to regard it in their own ways, with profound meaning or with passing nonchalance.  And the vast, vast majority of people (including, quite possibly, everyone I’ve ever known) will never encounter it themselves.

I may try to share it with others, as I’m doing now, along with the meaning I derived from it.  And, while I can hope that others appreciate what I share, it’s unlikely to have the same depth of meaning for anyone else.  More significant, perhaps, is that I let others know that it is meaningful to me.  That’s how to connect with people – not to try to convey the meaningfulness per se, but to convey that it was meaningful to me.

I can’t convey meaning to others.  I can only be(come) and express myself.  And by doing so – authentically, honestly – then others can more deeply appreciate who I am, and, perhaps, find their own meaning in knowing me.

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