Extending the Membrane

In this guest post, our good friend and innovative thinker Joe Gitchell challenges us to think about ways for extending the membrane of community to reduce stigma and bias.

In perusing TED talks for information on evolution, I watched this video from University of Virginia professor Jonathan Haidt on transcendence and humans as cooperative creatures. It is worth watching the full 18 minutes (though you can cheat and watch the closing 3-minute summary) and has profound implications for addressing health issues that involve stigma and bias.

We have evolved to form collaborating communities and the biological “wiring” in support of this behavior is powerful. The implication of a community, however, is the establishment of a barrier: us vs. them. Professor Haidt uses the “membrane” example to describe how Mother Nature solved the free-loader problem arising from selflessness.

This reminded me of the powerful TED Talk from obesity researcher Peter Attia. He approached the same issue with some deeply personal experiences.

What can we do to “extend the membrane” of community to include, truly, those we intend to help? How to look at someone with a BMI of 35, or with a cigarette in her mouth, or spilling her sixth alcoholic beverage in two hours, as us and not them?

Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Community, photograph © Kamaljith K V / flickr

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2 Responses to “Extending the Membrane”

  1. September 14, 2014 at 6:43 pm, Reeger Cortell said:

    Joe (and Ted),

    What can we do? Yes, what indeed. I had not seen this TED talk, but am very thankful you posted it. I completely agree with Prof Haidt’s statement: “One great challenge of modern life is to find the staircase amid all the clutter then do something good and noble once you climb to the top.”

    For myself, the staircase revealed itself more as I got older and saw the clutter for what it truly was- distraction from a life of deep meaning, value, and contribution. But even once the staircase reveals itself that does not mean one has the courage to climb. There is discomfort in the effort. Discomfort in leaving what is familiar and pseudo-safe for…for what? Once you start climbing you cannot know how long the journey will take nor what awaits you when you arrive. Given these risks, emotional gravity pulls you back with every step up you attempt.

    But the higher you climb, the more profound the realization that the gifts of oneness and connection have been with you the entire time and you understand there is no place to go, no staircase to climb. It only seemed that way when you were lost amidst the clutter.

    What can we do to extend the membrane of community? Be willing to look within first at the dark shadows of fear. Be willing to let go of the emotional security blanket of judgement that falsely tells you, you are better than another. Be willing to let go of the need to inflate your ego at the alter of another person’s pain. Be willing to use your voice, your written words, your money, your time, and your energy to share, and most importantly, live by example. If one person by one person does any one of these things, the ripple effects will spread and grow and change will occur. I have no other choice but to believe this to be true.


    • September 15, 2014 at 11:42 am, Ted said:

      Lots of good food for thought, Reeger. I’m still trying to to puzzle this out.