Venn diagrams have always fascinated me. A Venn diagram is “a diagram that shows all possible logical relations between a finite collection of different sets.” I know this because Wikipedia tells me so, but also because I’ve seen the Venn of my own life.
My Venn diagram is a thick forest of circles, a myriad of groups whose overlapping and intersecting parts enfold me in a Spirograph®-worthy web.
In the very middle, where all overlapping intersects, this cheese stands alone. Not just me. All of us. In the end, we are unique humans with our own set of stories and beliefs and experiences.
Which can be either an inclusive or isolating place, depending on your perspective and your ability to own your own truth and live your life from that space.
Years ago, I took as my personal mantra a line from my hero, the poet, journalist, and lesbian activist Elsa Gidlow, who wrote:
“You say I am mysterious
Let me explain myself
In a land of oranges
I am faithful to apples.”
This poem still suits me perfectly. I stand alone, faithful to my beliefs, in the midst of all various beliefs that others would say we should either adopt or avoid.
I choose solitary inclusion. Always have. Always will.
Back in high school, I was invited to every party imaginable – from the theater club to the chess club. I was a member of the junior engineering team and my crew of best friends were the POMS (you know, the more elite cheerleaders who did their routines with pompoms – hey girls!)
It was when I threw a party inviting them all —geeks, jocks, stoners, country boys, POMS, drama queens and bookworms — that I discovered the perimeter of all my circles.
The refrain was universal: I’m not coming if they’re invited.
Edwin Markham, in his poem Outwitted wrote:
“He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had a wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!”
It’s the perimeter that shuts us out or encircles us within. It’s the drawing line between “us” and “them” — as if there’s any such thing.
I believe the perimeter is also the place from which we can observe everything. Standing against the wall at life’s infinite party, we can be part of every conversation, every circle. Truth be told, we already are.
We are standing at the edge, looking inward at the parts of each circle we belong to, every circle that doesn’t fully overlap with us.
Our unique deciding point, our vantage, allows us to choose to dismiss and deride and lose the richness offered through different viewpoints, different lives. It also offers up the opportunity to appreciate all those within the circles we observe, choosing to claim our stake in each, without embracing or celebrating everything they contain.
From this vantage point we can see all we have in common, our full, rich interrelatedness. All our hopes and dreams. All our fears.
When I remember our overlapping commonalities I can be a little kinder in my conversations, a little more open to hearing without prejudging.
My high school collection of RSVP regrets only from all those friends taught me one thing: It’s our prejudgments, our prejudices, that separate us.
I’m not coming if they’re invited.
Not coming to the dinner table, not coming to the conversation, not coming to see the other as someone who has different ideas, different self-expressions. Someone who has hopes and dreams and fears…. Just. Like. Us.
Think of all the circles of friends you belong to. How many of them would you invite to the same party? How many would you invite to a more intimate gathering, say a dinner party? Do you already cringe when you think of someone who would make the evening uncomfortable? Where would you orchestrate events to ensure certain friends never meet? If only to avoid the awkwardness of the conflict-laden conversation that would ensue?
How many of these “edge of the circle” uneasy-to-define friends have you already distanced yourself from or eliminated from your life and what do you stand to gain if you embrace them instead? Let’s talk about it!