For generations, compulsory military service in the Western World- at least for most males- produced a leveling effect.
It didn’t matter where the man next to you on the Higgins Boat came from; what God he worshiped; or, who he voted for. He was in it with you -- all the way.
Drill sergeants didn’t care if you were black, brown, yellow, or white. You were all less than human.
The Marines at Khe Sahn battled seemingly impossible odds together.
Military cemeteries attest to this. The crosses at Normandy, Iwo Jima, and a hundred others are the same size.
Where do find the find the same leveling effect in today’s world?
It seems we do all that we can to stay away from people who aren’t like us. We likely work in offices with people in the same industry. Live in neighborhoods with people of the same economic and educational background. Take vacations to places where people like us hang out. Even going to a public event most often means sitting in areas where people can afford the same ticket price as we do.
On the Net, we further segment and alienate ourselves, through our Linked In, Facebook, and other accounts. We seek to exclusively connect with those who choose to invite us or who we decide to invite. We visit websites that cater to our own interests.
One of the few places where we are still all equal and in it together is on public transport.
I write this in Europe, where I have been taking the subway everyday. When the door opens, anyone can get in. We share a very close, uncomfortable space with total strangers; and at that moment we are no different from each other.
This morning on the Metro, the old man with a cane, the young mother with a stroller, two business executives on their BlackBerrys, three African immigrants, four construction workers, a sleeping drunk, six high school kids, and an American visitor all shared a 10’ x 10’ piece of train for seven stops.
When we got to the main transfer station, we all got off -- except for the drunk -- and went our separate ways -- never to be together again.
The beauty of taking public transportation is that is reminds us of the commonality we possess with our fellow human beings. And, of our insignificance. It is both uplifting and humbling.
Next time, take the train.