It is a question that would probably be considered strange, or even absurd, within indigenous and/or nature-based cultures. In such cultures the question may not even need to be asked, as everyday life is the answer to the question.
However, for those of us from western-styled cultures it is a useful question to ask. Where do we fit?
Fit? In what? Strange that we don’t ask it, given that it was a western mind that first formulated a theory that allows the question to be asked.
Who was that? Charles Darwin.
But didn’t he say that it was all about survival of the fittest? Well, yes and no.
Yes, he did use the phrase, but he did not coin it. On The Origin Of Species was first published in 1859, but it was not until a decade later, in 1869, with the fifth edition that the phrase “survival of the fittest” was used. Herbert Spencer had used the term in his own book two years earlier, and a friend of Darwin’s suggested that the phrase better suited Darwin’s theory, than the phrase “natural selection.”
What did he mean by “fittest”? Instead of jumping to misleading ideas of “quickest, biggest, strongest etc” let’s see what Darwin himself wrote.
“Let it also be borne in mind how infinitely complex and close-fitting are the mutual relations of all organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life; and consequently what infinitely varied diversities of structure might be of use to each being under changing conditions of life.”1We see here a clear reference to “fitness,” in Darwin’s mind, referring to the mutual relationships, and not about competition.
Writing half a century later, the Russian writer, activist, scientist, philosopher, Peter Kropotkin took this idea of mutuality further and in his book Mutual Aid, wrote that Darwin had
“… intimated that … the fittest are not the physically strongest, nor the cunningest, but those who learn to combine so as mutually to support each other, strong and weak alike, for the welfare of the community.”2Clearly, Darwin and those who understood his works at the time, thought of fitness in much the same way as we might think of a jigsaw piece fitting into the jigsaw picture.
Do We Fit The Jigsaw?
For the past ten millennia we westerners have become accustomed to breaking the jigsaw apart rather than working out where we fit.
Along the way we decided that the jigsaw of nature and the world had to be contended with, it had to be tamed and exploited. So, we ripped up some of the jigsaw pieces around us, and threw them away. We tried replacing them with other pieces, pieces that we manufactured, because we thought they would be better than nature, an improvement.
But, they are not an improvement. The jigsaw pieces we create do not “fit” with their neighbours, and so the whole jigsaw gets disrupted.
Discovering where we fit has to begin with dispelling the myth that “fitness” means biggest, strongest, fastest, greatest.
It also means having to discard the notion that we are the smartest, the most complex of creatures. It means banishing the thought that we can improve things and make things better than they already are.
When we ask ourselves “where do we fit?” with the understanding that Darwin or Kropotkin had, then we start asking questions of: connection, relationship, and belonging.
These questions then lead us to ask questions of:
- what is our responsibility toward the jigsaw pieces around us?
- at what point do we say “thus far and no more?”
- how do we ensure that we are aware of the effect our actions have on the rest of the jigsaw?
- what responsibility do we have to healing the wounds of the pieces we have disrupted?
- how do we go about this healing?
It is not in every space. Our task is to find that fit place.
1. Charles Darwin, The Origin Of Species, 6th edition, 1872, pp 82-83
2. Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, McLure Phillips & Co., New York, 1902, p 12