Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Human Family

There are 2 kinds of people _______(fill in the blank). How many times have we said/heard that? There are endless possibilities, so many ways of dividing ourselves:  people who think like us and people who don't, cat people or dog people, famous and obscure, religious and nonreligious, conservatives vs liberal, honest or dishonest, beer drinkers or wine drinkers, party people or couch potatoes, educated and ignorant. Us versus Them.
In this age of excessive partisanship our differences seem to define us. One thing all individuals on the planet have in common is our uniqueness. We want to feel special, and that sometimes is achieved by feeling disdain for others. But the things that divide us are superficial. Fundamentally, in the things that really count, we are all the same.
What we tend to forget is that we are all part of the Family of Man. We all were once a little baby, someone's son or daughter.  We all look pretty much the same in any culture in the world, without our clothes and other trappings. We will all grow old and we will all die someday. If we are lucky in the meantime we will experience love and laughter and friendship and success and comfort. Many of us will be considerably luckier than most.
We all want to be significant, even if it's just to a few loved ones. We want to be respected, especially by those whom we respect. We don't want to disappoint our loved ones. We want what's best for ourselves, our children, other people's children, our neighbors, our country and our world.
We all have aspirations and hope. Not all of us have the resources to achieve our dreams. Some dreams may be incredibly modest. The satisfaction in achieving them is just as profound.
We are all touched by the same things. We cry when we see sadness and tragedy. We are all afraid when we see danger. We get angry when we see injustice. We want to have fun. We all dance to our favorite music. We are all happy when we play with a child.
We all experience excitement, anger, boredom, anxiety, sickness, hunger, beauty, pride, curiosity, compassion and courage. We can understand and forgive. We seek truth, respect fairness, try to set good examples. 
We cannot escape our human condition. We need to embrace it and make the most of it. We need to understand each other and bridge our differences. 
Perhaps each year on our birthday we should all give a moment of thought to how alike we all are and how much better the world would be if we kept that realization uppermost in our minds in our daily interactions and in the decisions we make. 
Our fundamentals are strong. We wake up every day to see that we have not destroyed ourselves. We want to wipe out prejudice and hatred so that everyone is free to enjoy all that life can offer. The current of our history is sweeping us in the direction of individual autonomy and global cooperation. Because of grassroots movements we've managed to make great strides in civil rights for women, people of color and gays - just in my lifetime. (Of course, an official equal rights amendment would be nice, fellas.) There is now no large group of citizens who are officially second class citizens in the developed world. Perhaps in the next generation we will wipe out prejudice, racism and silly sectarian hatred. The Arab Spring continues to expand. Human rights are demanded and recognized in every 'corner' of the globe. As Steven Pinker asserts, we are living in the least violent period of our existence. There will always be those that are short sighted, motivated primarily by greed and self interest. But it doesn't take that many of the rest and best of us to push for the solutions to the problems they cause.  
To see ourselves in a positive light is an intelligent choice. To be an optimist is not always easy, it can take some convincing. But to believe in ourselves is the best way to proceed. We are the species that can deduce black holes and multiple universes and create cures for our diseases. We can overcome our frailties and curtail our destructive impulses. Even though we have the power to destroy our planet, we also have the imagination, technical knowledge and persistence to rescue ourselves from our weapons and our actions. There is always, hope.

This photo is from the book "The Family of Man" by  Edward Streichen, the exhibit that showcased the universal condition of our shared labors, rituals, pastimes, joys and tragedies. 

Every man beareth the whole stamp of the human condition - Montaigne