Monday, October 16, 2017

Shared Humanity

Funnily enough, it was while watching Titan Theatre Company's fantastic and bloody Richard III this past Friday night that led me to start thinking about compassion and the fact that we as humans always have far more in common with each other than we think.

There is a scene between three of the powerhouse women in the show where enemies realize their mutual grief binds them together and puts them as members of the same club.  They don't exactly put their differences (or, you know, blood feuds) behind them and become best friends, but they relate to each other as fellow human beings.  It's an amazing scene of grief, reluctantly shared humanity, shared desire for vengeance, and ultimately human connection.

The idea that people on such polar opposite ends of a spectrum - again, blood feud - could have a moment of commonality is always striking.  These days, we all too often are ready to be divided amongst ourselves and to disconnect from others on the opposite side of a debate.

The current controversy about people kneeling during the anthem is a great example - folks on the right claim that kneeling dishonors our troops.  Folks on the left claim a huge part of the reason our service men and women fight in the first place is to protect our right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech, and that the kneeling is a protest of racial inequality, not targeted toward soldiers.

As for the troops themselves?  They don't all hold the same opinion about the subject.  Many have spoken out saying they view it as highly disrespectful.  Many have also come out to say they fought to live in a country where people can't be legally forced to stand for the anthem - and that there are far more substantive ways to respect or disrespect the troops than what you do during the anthem at a football game.

I don't bring this up to get into that specific debate, but merely to illustrate the point that within this one issue we have "other'ing" happening - for example, the "patriots versus the non-patriots."  There's also an attempt to lump one entire group of people together and assume you know the mind of each and every one of them - "the troops."

It's just as misguided to assume that someone who views the issue differently than you is a terrible person as it is to assume all people are the same because they belong to a particular group.  Apply that to...women, black people, hispanic people, men, yoga teachers, liberals, Christians, doctors, Muslims - you name it.  There is always been and will always be a massive amount of diversity within any easily categorized group of people.

The Internet makes "other'ing" and lumping groups of people together (I really need a one word name for that) all too easy to do.  When you're forced to have an actual face-to-face conversation about an issue, though, and are thoughtful about what you're saying and feeling instead of being reactive and assuming, it's much easier to develop understanding and empathy of another person's differing viewpoint.  The meeting last year between Colin Kaepernick and Green Beret Nate Boyer is a an example of two people discussing their differences in person and each coming out with a greater understanding of the other.

It all makes me think of a quote from Maya Angelou that I've long wanted to write about but never quite known what to say about it.  I believe it to be true, but at the same time - I don't want it to be true.

"We are all human; therefore, nothing human can be alien to us."

Any emotion or thought or action any other human being in the world may feel or think or do - if it exists in one person, it has the potential to exist in every person.

This quote makes me more than a little nauseous.  It's not pleasant to think of my shared humanity with, say, Hitler.  Or Kim Jon Un.  Or any of the perpetrators of mass shootings.  Or Donald Trump.  Or your every day sociopath.  Or the asshole who shoved past you on the subway the other day.  Or the man catcalling you on the street.

It's more comfortable to call them monsters, to think of them as villains, and to demonize them than to think of them as fellow human beings, who just happen to possess a darkness that I do could potentially possess. Sort of a "there but for the grace of God go I" situation.

I think the point of the quote, aside from attempting to demonstrate compassion and understanding instead of judgement and blame for those different from us, is to keep us humble.  Innate biases mean that we always think better of ourselves than we perhaps deserve (unless you have cataclysmically low self esteem).  But we are all possessed of flaws and darkness too.

Conclusions are my weak point as a writer - always have been.  This is a big bunch of ideas I've been marinating in my head for quite awhile as the country's divisions have widened and widened over the past years and I've tried harder and harder to live a more spiritually connected life in the midst of it.  I don't have a flash of wisdom to tie this all up into a bow - but that quote keeps coming up in my head and forcing me to look at things in a less black-and-white, less comfortable, less easy way.

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