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Getting Along: The Art of Moving Forward Together

 

by Jennifer Paros

November 2016

 

All human beings are also dream beings. Dreaming ties all mankind together.

~Jack Kerouac

 

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When my youngest son was four, he made up a song that went, You have to get along/But you gotta have free, which spoke to his desire to join with others without hampering his individuality. That’s a jingle that has continued to suit him and his life throughout his seventeen years. He wants everyone to think independently – and clubs, organizations, political parties, religions all seem to require conformity of thought. But, of course, agreement among the masses also serves humanity and moves us forward, supporting the freedom of its members.

In the arts there are groups with ideas and criteria that define what is good or bad or even what “art” is. Periodically, artists break from the agreed upon and create something different. In doing so, the collective’s thinking expands. In Paris, in 1874, a group of artists held their own exhibition separate from the Salon (a state funded, juried exhibition that was the only means for artists to show their work at the time). These artists had all previously been rejected by the Salon and were tired of the rigidity of its rules and expectations. They broke from historical themes and academic painting approaches – groupthink about what art should look like, how it should be made, even its subject. This was the beginning of Impressionism.

These kinds of movements happen often: when Picasso and Braque developed Cubism, when James Joyce brought stream of consciousness to fame and infamy through his book, Ulysses, fueling the Modernist movement, and when Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream.” There are many examples in political/social movements and the arts, because personal vision feeds into and supports the movement of the whole. For that to happen, not only must an agreement be questioned, but the individual has to step into his own integrity apart from the group. Acting from his independent view, he provides a new premise around which others can organize. In this way, there is no conflict of interest in being apart or together; the movement of the individual always intertwines with and helps shape the movement of the masses.

This election cycle, many Republican elected officials have been confused as to what to do regarding the GOP candidate, Donald Trump. Some backed him, changed their minds, then changed their minds again. Some remained silent. Others denounced his comments and behavior but endorsed him; and there are those that stood steady in their support. Though these Republicans are part of a political party, when they looked to their group to guide them, there wasn’t a clear answer. Republican politicians tried to gauge from the outside what they ought to do – as is the culture and custom of most organizations – but they could not.

 

The essence of the beautiful is unity in variety.

~ Felix Mendelssohn

 

Confusion comes when we look outside ourselves for answers. I always feel insecure while focusing more on how someone else sees a story I’m writing than what I know it to be. When I disconnect from my own vision in order to poll others, I temporarily curtail my ability to contribute. We waffle when we attempt to ignore our own way in deference to an external consensus. Though we are used to honoring allegiances, our role remains to use ourselves as the guide instead of a group. We do this not to reject established agreement, but to discover new thinking that better matches who we’ve all become, rather than who we’ve been. The upside of an organization losing its focus is that its members are pressed to defer to their own independent visions.

We want to get along, because we are all in this together – and because life is inherently a discussion, not a monologue. Our individual freedom is central in our being a cooperative, collaborative part of this world. The most lauded (sometimes also initially reviled) contributions have come from individuals thinking freely and creating differently from their clan. There is no inherent clash between getting along and being free; confusion comes only when we forget that harmony does not mean or require sameness.

We evolve together and independently; we seek common ground, while dreaming individual, unique visions. We are unified in our freedom, unified in our love, unified in our expansion. Unity is defined as “a totality of related parts” and regardless of disagreements, we remain unquestionably related. We are always standing together; the diversity of thought and collaboration of these realities carries us forward both as individuals and as a collective.

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Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.

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