The lowest common denominator.

It’s the only math concept I’ve ever taken to heart, the only one that’s ever made me think, “Ok…maybe…maybe…this math thing is about more than just numbers.” It’s the lowest common denominator, aka, “LCD.”

I detest fractions, just looking at an equation using them makes me twitch, and the only time I ever pay any attention to them is when I’m baking (because, dang, then they matter!).

But I get the idea of a lowest common denominator. 

And what I know is this: When we assume the LCD–whether in math, or relationships, or our civic life, we are settling. For the very least that is possible.

And maybe sometimes this is necessary. Because truthfully, there are folks in this world that cause me to repeat, “She is a human being, too. He is a child of God, too,” over and over so that I won’t be taken over by anger or sadness and then strike out in ways I’ll regret. (And I’m confident I exact the same response in at least a few others.) Sometimes that’s all we can muster. So be it.

But when the LCD becomes our go-to MO, our first response to any given difficulty or challenge in our life together, we’ve got a problem. We’re all capable of cruelty. Of assumption. Of bias that judges and excludes. We’re all capable of hurting others, and we don’t get through life without doing so. But when that becomes our preferred way of operating in the world…well, we might as well give up.

The idea of lowest common denominator ought to be a positive thing, in that it ought to make us think, “Ok, if we can agree on NOTHING else, we can agree on this one thing….” Instead, I fear the LCD we all share has become the capacity for making disagreement personal. The tendency to make a theological or political or philosophical difference in thought cause for personal attack (and most often such an attack has nothing to do with issue at hand). Making fun of and/or mocking someone’s appearance or ethnicity or education level or background…it’s all communal sport these days and I swear to all that is holy I believe it is making us less of the people we were meant to be.

And it isn’t really what we’re after. At our core, we all want to belong. We all want to be safe. We all want to have enough. But we live in a world where far too often exclusion reigns supreme and money talks. And so there those who begin and end every day believing “I do not matter,” and they do so with hungry bellies and feeling decidedly not safe.

If we want to be great again as a people, it’s going to require a level of compassion that is difficult to rise to…but that is also what we’re wired for.

Yep. I said it. And I believe it. That human beings are first and foremost wired for compassion, for relationship–and it’s only when we insist on fighting against this wiring out of fear or misery or heartache or loneliness or all the other things in this life that assail us that things go wrong.

God, I wish I knew how to fix it. The right words to say. The right actions to take–in our own messed-up lives and in the world.

I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect the answers lie in the example we set for our children. We’re failing miserably at the whole “good example” thing as a nation right now, even as there are amazing parents and caregivers and teachers everywhere doing it well, modeling compassion, practicing forgiveness, nurturing respect and kindness. But collectively? Ouch. Not so much.

And y’all? If we want a life–locally, nationally, globally–that lives into the best of what it means to be human–where no one is left out and everyone has a chance at wholeness–then we’d better set about the task of being for our children what we want the world to be for them. I don’t care how we teach it–use math if that’s your thing–but how we exist in relationship to each other makes all the difference. And we have got to figure it out.

Because so much more is possible. There’s so much beyond the lowest common denominator. And if we could get that–and then find a way towards it as a people…. Holy wow…. The possibilities become endless…infinite…beautiful.

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