For four decades Eunice Pike was a missionary to the Mazatecs, an aboriginal people in southwestern Mexico. She had not lived long among them when she noticed that no one in their villages ever sent anyone else well wishes.
It was a strange cultural anomaly: The Mazatec people, though living together, shared extremely little with one another. Oh, there might be the occasional lending of a farm tool or cooking utensil, but words of kindness or instruction about any given subject were rarely exchanged.
For example, if Eunice asked someone after dinner, “Who taught you how to cook?” The answer was always, “I just know.” And if she offered a follow-up question such as, “Would you teach me how to cook like that?” she would be stonewalled again. The answer was always, “No.”
Eunice Pike came to understand that the Mazatec believed there was only so much good and knowledge in the world. Thus, if someone taught her how to do something, like bake a tasty dish or how to find medicinal herbs in the wild, then the person giving these instructions would lose his or her ability to do these things. Even something as common as wishing someone well – “Have a nice day!” – would result, so the Mazatec believed, in the well-wisher giving away his or her own personal wellness.
It was a culture of scarcity. With a limited amount of knowledge and happiness to go around, each individual clung fiercely to what he or she had, and the overall wellbeing of the community suffered as a result. This will always be the case.
Any society – a primitive tribal community or a contemporary, Western democracy – that operates in a tight-fisted, self-centered manner gains nothing. Rather, that society surrenders everything. Refusing to share with others is not a mark of preservation. It is individualism gone to seed.
One of the great traditions of the Recovery movement is the concept of mutual health. “Our common welfare comes first,” the tradition reads, “because personal wellness depends upon us being in this together.” And let there be no doubt: We are in this together.
Whether we live in a small village, a burgeoning city, or a farming town; whether we are part of a mosque, synagogue, church, Rotary Club, or a meditation circle; and whether we live in North America or on the other side of the globe, we are intricately connected.
Because we are human, breathing the same air, inhabiting the same space, passengers on the same celestial vessel, yes, and because we are all God’s children, heaven having willed that our species will succeed or fail based on our willingness to live and share together.
We need the collective participation of wisdom, insight, resources, and experience – sharing – not hoarding. In the words of the Buddha, “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.” Nothing of value can ever be decreased by sharing it with others.