Tag Archives: Humanity

How Badly Do We Stink At Being Human?

“Inhumanity, n. One of the signal and characteristic qualities of humanity.” –Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary

Hello friend,

I got in the car the other night to pick up my kids from swimming, and the radio was on to NPR. Within a few seconds, I was fully engrossed in the special segment they were doing on sexual harassment in Japan. I suppose it was because I was caught off-guard due to my thinking that norms in Japan–what I have always thought of as a modern, forward-thinking country–for something like sexual harassment would probably be about the same as they are in America, perhaps better. I was immediately informed that I had been dead wrong.

The report detailed one woman’s struggle against a culture and a legal system that treats harassment as normal, accepted, and benign. She had fought hard to bring her tormentor to justice in the workplace and the court system, something completely unheard of in Japan until very recently. Late in the story, they were talking about resistance to change in attitudes, and they interviewed a woman who supposedly represented a common view in that culture. She basically said that it is right that men should be in charge and have their way, because women aren’t calm and logical and their menstruation makes them irrational and such.

I was absolutely floored. Appalled would probably be more accurate. I simply could not believe what I was hearing. It sounded like a cartoon from the Dark Ages!

It is Japan, what I was thinking as a leading-edge type of country, and here they are in 2018 with these archaic social constructs that are terribly damaging to women (and thus society in general). What the heck???

After picking up the scattered pieces of my psyche from this bomb’s detonation, I was left with a sick, ominous void in my center. This hollow darkness was, of course, the realization that sexual harassment in Japan is just the tip of the mammoth iceberg that is the depravity of the human experience as we have constructed it to this point in history.

We really are horrible to each other. I am not so much speaking in individual, one-to-one relationship terms–though I know we all have our fair share of regrets in that department, too–but rather in the countless and varied ways that we systematically denigrate and deprive massive sections of the population. And I am not only referring to the ways that these many mistreatments directly affect their targeted population, but even more so how they contribute to the more general shortcoming and disease of humankind as a whole, oppressed and oppressors alike. So even as I admit that, relatively speaking, there are obvious winners and losers in this game of stigmatization and oppression, I would just as sternly argue that in the realm of the absolute, nobody is getting away clean here.

We are, all of humankind, losing the race against our potential.

When I think of all the ways that humans keep humanity down–racism, sexism, environmental destruction, war, colonialism, education deprivation, starvation, religious persecution, denial of health care, and slavery, to name just a few–I can’t help but beg for answers. WHY??? Are there common themes that run through all of these things? I want to know if there are a few things we could address, values or ideas that we might interject at crucial spots in our global and societal dialogue that might help us right the ship and steer us clear the next time we were tempted to veer into depravity. Where do we keep going wrong when, if only we would choose right, we would see us all lifted the way a rising tide lifts all boats?

I think that a big part of it is that we seem to enter just about every pursuit from a position of scarcity rather than abundance. We think there is not enough for everyone. So we must horde and wrestle for every scrap of anything we value, even if we plainly have enough already. Food, land, water, money, power, salvation. And when we get in a position to control these things, we set up systems–monetary systems, infrastructure systems, legal systems, systems of thought and culture–that ensure we continue to get more and more while others get less and less. I can’t help but look at the amazing natural gifts that the Earth provides us–truly an embarrassment of riches–and wonder how it is we ever came to this mentality of scarcity. But here we are.

Because humans have chosen to operate from a place of scarcity rather than abundance, we have been forced to justify why some should have more (or enough) and others should have less (or not enough). We have been very clever in our social constructions throughout history. We have taken the other humans–the ones with religions, skin colors, genders, homelands, modes of dress, levels of income, and customs that are different than ours–and defined them as less worthy than us.

Typically, in order to justify our self-serving and “inhumane” behavior toward them, we have had to create the most convincing stories about them, with lots of cartoonish images. The others have been labeled, at various turns: barbarians, savages, devils, heathens, criminals, animals, lazy, stupid, drunk, childlike, greedy, thieving, subhuman, immoral, irrational, overemotional, naturally servile, only good for reproducing, or mistakes of God. You just can’t steal someone’s land, or hold them as a slave, or rape them, or ignore their starvation, or commit genocide against their people without a good story as to why you are justified in doing so. Humans have never stopped committing atrocities in which the perpetrators believed themselves to be righteous in their cause. The Crusades. Manifest Destiny. The Final Solution. Jihad.

The list could–and does–go on.

Maybe in the end, it comes down to operating out of Fear rather than out of Love. Coming from a place of scarcity basically means living in fear that there isn’t enough and that we will go without. When we live in Fear, we get greedy and defensive. We become short-sighted and irrational. We lose our compassion and generosity. We act desperate.

Yes, that’s it! Desperate. That word resonates with me now as I think about human history. We seem to be a desperate species.

But does it have to be this way? I realize that, in terms of the age of the planet, humans are a relatively recent occurrence. And I realize that we had to learn it by failing, trial and error. We were on our own, so to speak, with no other species quite like us to learn from (although the more time I spend in Nature, the more lessons I learn about how to live well). And we weren’t always as technologically advanced as we are today, so it was much more of an eking out of our existence. Maybe we started our scarcity trip then and just never let it go. Perhaps evolution hard-wired this fear and lack into our system after so many bouts with plagues and famines, feudal lords and slave traders. I can see the plausibility in that explanation.

But I am an optimist, so I want to believe there is more in store for the human race than a continuing story of pettiness, lack of compassion, and ruthless greed. So, I look to the examples in history of people–sometimes individually and sometimes collectively–choosing to rise above the Fear, to act better. To act out of Love. I think of the American Indians and their willingness to share their land with new arrivals, secure in the knowledge that no one could truly own it. I think of the many women and men who have risked everything to speak up and resist oppressive movements, such as slavery, Nazism, colonialism, and patriarchy. I think of scientists sharing their positive findings with the world. I think of the vast majority of modern countries providing health care for all who need it (which is everyone) without first determining their ability to pay. I think of the many countries today who accept refugees from war-torn nations, not because it is convenient but because it is right. These humans give me hope for humankind.

I need it, too, because WOW, the scales are overloaded on the other side! I am often found shaking my head in frustration and disgust over the awful performance of the collective humanity in my America. It can feel like we are the Land of Oppression. We try it on almost anything and anyone: women, anyone with a brownish complexion, the LGBTQ community, the poor, non-Christians, Mother Nature, and on and on and on. Sometimes it seems overwhelming and like it could hardly be worse.

That is why that NPR story on sexual harassment in Japan was such a jolt to my psyche. It reminded me that, in spite of America’s disgusting history of inhumanity–a history that continues today in such glaring areas as mass incarceration, income inequality, neglect of the poor, health care denial, and civil rights abuses–we are actually doing better than other countries in some of these areas. That is sobering.

I often wonder what the fate of the human species will be. You know, like, will we still be around in another 1,000 years or 10, 000 or 100,000? And what will we have done to each other in that time? I sure hope that we will have risen above the Fear and the scarcity mentality. I hope that we will have learned that none of us really wins when we define winning as holding everyone else down. I hope that by then, Love is the high tide that lifts us all. But right now, all I have is an unfounded hope. Because if I am just going on human history, I can’t see how this goes well or ends well.

How about you? What is your evaluation of the human race relative to its potential? Open up your journal and free your mind to explore this enormous topic. On first blush–before diving deep–what kind of score are you inclined to give us humans? How do you think your score compares to the judgment of the other seven billion people on the planet today? Are you higher or lower than average? How much do you think your score–or anyone’s, really–is a function of the country or culture they live in (i.e. people from prosperous or progressive countries are more likely to say that humans have done well as a species than people from poor or oppressive cultures)? How much do you think a person’s score reflects that person’s position within her own culture (e.g., a wealthy, straight, White, American man scoring humanity high versus a poor, queer, Black, American woman scoring humanity low)? What score do you think an impartial outside observer (e.g, someone from another planet, or perhaps God) would give us? Okay, back to your assessment. What is humankind’s potential? If you took all of our qualities and capabilities, what would the best version of our species look like? How different is our story (history) relative to that best story? In what areas has humanity done best? Are we near to our potential in any aspect of our existence? In what areas have we done worst? What are some of the most “inhumane” chapters in our history? Would you say we are getting better or worse as the centuries pass? How do you envision our species in the year 3000? How about the year 30000? Will Fear, greed, and a scarcity mentality remain the norm, or will we ever move toward Love and abundance? Will we reach our potential? Do you agree that it can be pretty depressing to read History books or watch the news and see how systematically we bring each other down? Are we destined to remain this way? Leave me a reply and let me know: How badly are we doing at being human?

Rise,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it on social media. Let’s evolve to Love!

P.P.S. If you enjoy introspection, check out my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

What Has The World Done To Us?

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” –Oscar Wilde

“Just read a great quote and thought of you.” There is no better way to grab my attention than to start off a message with that line. Of course, I love a good quotation. And I always appreciate when someone not only thinks of me but also makes the effort to let me know. So it warmed my heart earlier this week when that text arrived from my brother, whom I hardly ever hear from. In those milliseconds between sentences, I was already on pins and needles to read the words that brought me to his mind. Here they were:

“The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense.”

Those words are the opening line of a book called “The Beast God Forgot to Invent” by Jim Harrison, the guy who wrote the more famous “Legends of the Fall” in the days when Brad Pitt was big.

Let his words sink in.

“The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense.”  

When I read those words, something in a deep-down place went, “DING!” Maybe it is because I exaggerate the importance of my brother’s thoughts. Maybe it is the particular place where I am in my life’s journey right now. Or maybe it is because I have always been suspicious of this bargain that our ancestors began and that we have all willingly (and probably unconsciously) joined in. Whether it was one of these reasons or some combination, that quote really resonated with me.

It is a huge, can-of-worms kind of thought, I know, and I am sure you and I could write dozens of letters back and forth to try to unpack the multitude of directions in which it could explode. Difficult ideas like this are the easiest ones to give up on. But, as much as I have tried to ignore this thought over the past few days, it won’t give up. It gnaws at me.

I suppose it is best to flesh out what aspect of “civilization” seems to be weighing on me and why I feel like my existence is threatened with oblivion if I keep buying what the world is selling. The answer is, of course, murky and complex, but if I could pull out a couple of aspects, I would say they are 1) Increasing Busy-ness, and 2) Decreasing Depth of Connections. Both of these point to a shallow form of existence, perpetually chasing the next shiny object. Or, as Harrison says, pissing away our lives on nonsense.

As for the Busy-ness, this seems to permeate all that we do and only seems to be increasing as we get more “civilized”.   When we adults get together, we have boasting contests about how many hours we worked in the last week, as though being consumed by a job and kept away from family and other pursuits were a badge of honor. I see the kids in my neighborhood—including my own—too busy running from one scheduled activity to the next that they cannot find time to just hangout and play.

And what are we so busy chasing? What is so darn important at our jobs and in our cars and at our events?

I am not suggesting that earning money to feed our families is not extremely valuable and necessary, but what I wonder about are the methods we choose and how much more time and energy we give them than they are worthy of.

And I am not suggesting that it is unhealthy to expose our children to lots of different new skills and sports in the hopes that they will stay healthy and find something they are passionate about, but what I wonder is, How much is too much? And also, How much of it is just doing it because everyone else seems to be doing it?

Our current version of civilization is shoving us along at a breakneck pace and seeing to it that we check all the boxes—make money, mind your status, have your kids signed up for every activity, dress right, do it all—for a life that can be deemed acceptable. But just because civilization gives its stamp of approval does not automatically make one’s life fulfilling. Does working all those hours to get rich actually make your life rich? I wonder…..

Don’t get me wrong. I know that working a ton at something that lights you up inside can be totally fulfilling (and sometimes it can even make you a lot of money). I am just wondering if that is the case for most people who are trying to do what the world tells them to do.

For me, I have been in Job Search Mode lately, and I really want to get it right this time and not hate my work. I am having an awful time finding a job description that excites me, even if civilization might have my resumé flying out left and right and taking anything that pays enough to check all of those boxes. I know I am picky, and I know I want it all—no compromises—but this is testing me.

I am beginning to think I don’t fit very well in this civilization. Oh wait, I have always thought that. Carry on!

As for the Decreasing Depth of Connections, I probably don’t need to regurgitate here all of the arguments about how this age of social media has created a world of people who “share” a lot but still don’t know how to actually talk with one another or make a genuine, thick-or-thin commitment. While our screens seem to allow us to reach more people, which I love—it lets me write to you—I also sense that these screens do more to insulate us from each other than they do to connect us with each other.

I also see that in the way we “civilized” people tend to gather in cities. Larger metropolitan areas have so much to offer—a variety of ways to find that career passion I mentioned above, greater diversity, tons of new experiences—making it seem obvious why we have become increasingly centralized throughout history. And yet, I can’t help but notice in my own journey—as a smallish-town kid who has lived in our nation’s biggest cities and is now a suburbanite—that the larger the population center, the more anonymous and disconnected the inhabitants seem to be.

I hope I am just projecting from my own experiences, but it feels like we are getting poorer and poorer at deep, meaningful connection and relationships of quality and substance. Between our electronic insulation and our population-density anonymity, civilization seems to be pointing us that way. Add that to the busy-ness of a life spent chasing through the traffic—vehicular and electronic—in our rush to get to our next event or next “must-see” post or Netflix series or gym class or job opportunity. Before we know it, we will have frenzied ourselves all the way to the end of our lives.

And what will it all look like from that angle? Will all of these shiny objects, these must-see, must-have experiences still look so valuable, so necessary? Or rather, will they look simply like a lot of unfulfilling filler, a lot of “nonsense”?

Maybe all of this doubt and suspicion is just part of my existential crisis stemming from my search for my Next Big Thing. But maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s a question I only dare allow into my consciousness every several years because I cannot bear to face the inevitable answer.

I just want what Henry David Thoreau wanted when he built his cabin in the woods near Walden Pond: “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartanlike as to put to rout all that was not life.”

Most days, I feel like to do that is to buck all that civilization is requesting of me.

How about you? Is this thing called Civilization helping or hurting your efforts at making a meaningful, fulfilling life? Open up your journal and see where this gigantic topic leads you. If you are like me, you probably won’t be able to tie a neat bow on this one but will turn over all sorts of new stones in your mind while trying. Let your mind and your pen wander. You can write for days on this one. Go back to the Jim Harrison quote: “The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense.” What is your immediate, gut-level response to that thought? Is it at all accurate for the population in general? What about for the people in your circle? How about for yourself? To what degree are you “pissing away your life on nonsense”? Does your busy-ness match your fulfillment? How many deep, meaningful relationships do you have that truly make your life worthwhile? What types of things qualify as “nonsense” in your mind? How much of your assessment of this whole idea comes down to something like, “Well, people should just personally choose to live better—pick more noble pursuits, build deeper bonds with others. Civilization has nothing to do with it.”? Which way does civilization lead us? Is our world, our civilization, just a load of empty promises, perpetually selling the glitter of greater busy-ness and broader brushstrokes but really just delivering a shallow existence, devoid of both quality time and meaningful connections? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are we wasting Humanity on nonsense?

Give yourself the gift of Truth,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to examine this thing we have going on here.