In trying to explain daylight savings time to my dogs this afternoon, I realized something. Most of what we do as humans is arbitrary. To explain why they had to wait another hour to eat, I simply said, “I don’t understand it either. We humans are ridiculously arbitrary.”
Amore’ continued to bark at me, so I then began to list examples of this tendency to be arbitrary for both my dogs, starting first of course with our tampering of the clocks twice a year.
I didn’t get very far in my listing of things before realizing that just about every sociocultural norm we have is arbitrary. Nearly every idea we have about anything has its roots in the arbitrary from decades or centuries ago.
Our ideas about groups that are different only came about as an arbitrary delineation from some other group. We arbitrarily include people. We arbitrarily exclude people. We arbitrarily make decisions about people based on arbitrary things. Your arbitrary doesn’t always match my arbitrary, so we decide to be divided.
In the midst of such an arbitrarily divisive time in our human history, there has been a refreshingly unified response to the devastation that Hurricane Sandy caused through much of the northeast. It is not arbitrary to help your neighbors, even if they are two or three thousand miles away from you.
It is not arbitrary to feel the losses that our neighbors from afar are feeling either. We are unified when we step outside of the arbitrary and relate to each other as humans with feelings and vulnerabilities.
Crises help us to step outside of the arbitrary (assuming we aren’t aware of the arbitrary). Elections seem to immerse us in arbitrary.
One thing all humans have in common on this very divisive 2012 election day eve is that we are all arbitrary. We will vote based on arbitrary ideas and for candidates who come the closest to matching our arbitrary ideas.
This does not mean we have to jump on an arbitrary bandwagon to arbitrarily exclude other humans because their ideas are not the same as our own.
We all share the arbitrary! Arbitrarians unite!