Is there any hope for humanity?
Under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family
It’s a great sentiment. We want to it to be true. But is it really true? If it was true, do you believe that we would see the kind of stuff taking place around the world, as it is now? Would we be living in a world where nuclear powers were at loggerheads with each other, and the Doom’s day clock showed 2 and 1/2 minutes to midnight?
Would we be living in a world where humans killed other humans for land, resources, or other silly things such as, who has a better idea about what happens after death?
Now, we are not the only species that fights, right? Animals destroy other animals who enter their territory. They are fighting for the right to mate, and their right to eat. That is physical survival. Fighting for physical survival is necessary. Although, we clearly we fight for something more don’t we?
We fight for psychological survival. We think ‘they’ are different than ‘us’. Their lifestyle, opinions, religions and values, are different than ours. They are violent, and to defeat them, we must become even more violent. We are better people, so we must prevail. We fight for the right reasons, and they for the wrong. Whoever ‘they’ are does not matter, all that matters is ‘we’ survive. In other words, ‘our way of life’ and ‘our progeny’ should survive. All human conflict at it’s root is a desire for psychological survival. This has been going on for thousands of years.
Most of us consider this to be a normal state of affairs. At some level, we have accepted this to be humanity’s fate. We feel helpless and strongly believe that one person cannot change the fate of the world. Therefore we have quit trying.
The consequences of our inaction are severe and have far reaching effects. With the number of deadly weapons we possess, an accident is no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when. This is not a pessimistic or nihilistic viewpoint, but plain objective reality. To get on with our daily life we must pretend that things are perfectly fine, but deep down we know that we are standing at a precipice, no matter how calm the winds may seem.
If we try there is little chance that we will succeed, but if never try, we definitely fail.
To create any kind of lasting change, we have to first understand what kind of action needs to be taken. Does taking action mean that we go to the street to protest, create advertisements and propagandize, or does it mean that action has to first be internal before we can convert it to any outward action?
A persistent belief
The separation between people arises out of a persistent belief that all of us seem to have. The belief that people are different, and those differences mean that they will always be in conflict with one another.
We all have this belief, which is why we are afraid of people with a religion that contradicts our own, or we despise people who are affiliated to a different political party, or someone who has a different sexual orientation. We stereotype people, just so that we can group them into one in our mind. Its a way to protect ourselves from them and to feel secure in knowing who they are. We then let those stereotypes govern our thoughts and actions in order to feel safe.
But are human beings really different from each other? Let’s examine it because…
If you say, “We’re different”, you will see its imaginary roots. If you say “We’re the same”, you will run into our differences like a wall.
So how to be sure?
Superficially, there are big differences between people. Some dark, some light, some rich some poor, some believers and some non-believers, some straight, some gay. Psychologically too, there are differences brought about by cultures, upbringing, and dispositions etc., but deep down, where it really matters, is there any difference between human beings?
The people on the other side of the planet hurt, cry, desire, fear and love like you do. The fear that you feel, is same fear that they experience when they are afraid. The love that you feel, is not so different from the love that they feel. The anger that makes us violent, is the same anger that makes them violent too.
If we can feel the pain of the people we love, and know that pain is real, why don’t we believe that people we don’t know, also feel pain the same way?
There are two ways to understand that human experience is the same all over the world; one is intellectual, the other is actual.
The only difference between intellectual and actual understanding is that actual understanding brings about a spontaneous change in your behavior, while intellectual understanding brings about a change in your thinking.
If you try to change your behavior based on an intellectual understanding of something, it feels forced and cannot be sustained. Anytime you did something which you knew deep down was wrong, it was because your understanding of it being wrong, was only at an intellectual level. That’s why, you only thought it was wrong, but you did it anyway!
Incidentally, this is also the cause of a psychological phenomenon known as ‘Cognitive dissonance’, but that will require another blog post to examine.
One reason for our ‘strictly intellectual’ understanding of ‘human equality’ is that most of us consider it to be a idealistic sentiment.
In other words, we are not fully convinced that human beings are the same everywhere. In fact, we actively disbelieve it because if we did somehow manage to believe it, then it could bring about a crisis in the present state of the world. Our current way of living would become impossible. We would have to treat the person on the street, the same we treat our real brother or sister. Our social order based on the survival of the fittest might even collapse. There are institutions at work which cannot accept such a reality, no matter how moral it may be.
Such institutions actively seek to keep things the way they are, in other words, to keep human beings separate and in perpetual conflict. If conflict continues, they can be in power. I will let you decide which those institutions are, but one honest look at our society will reveal them to you.
They are afraid that a new order, based on trust, will replace the current order based on doubt and distrust. But how can we blindly trust the other person? How can we be sure that if we show them compassion, they will do the same? What if they take advantage of our love and hurt us? What if they take our land, our property, our belongings and leave us by the wayside? The big question that arises out of this is:
Why should we trust other people’s motives, when we don’t fully trust even our own?
To understand this conundrum let’s consider a thought experiment.
A Thought Experiment.
Let me ask you a simple question, which might seem meaningless at first. Please give it a moment and consider its strange implications.
If you closed your eyes tonight, and woke up tomorrow as a different person in their body, in their house, would you notice it?
I know, it’s a hypothetical. But really, is it?
Think about it for a second. You have become a different person, in entirety, with that person’s memories, body, experiences and family which are now yours. You have no memory of your past self, at all. It is as if your past did not ever exist.
On waking up, would you feel as if anything has changed?
Even if you look into the mirror and see a totally different face, you have no way of knowing it’s not your face, because you don’t remember looking at anything different. Your family will be different, your job will be different, your house will be different. Your religion, your skin color, your sexual orientation, your passions, your true nature, everything could be different, and yet, you won’t notice a thing.
I agree it’s an absurd question, which implies that it might even be happening every day all over the world, without anyone scientifically being able to prove otherwise. But the absurdity of the question serves a purpose.
It shows us that if theoretically it was possible to do such a thing, we would have to admit that we wouldn’t notice anything to be wrong.
Because in essence, nothing really would be wrong!
The surprising and yet unacceptable fact is, it doesn’t matter whether you are the old you or the new you. It makes no difference to your experience of being alive.
We do indeed share an experience of life which is incredibly similar to all other human beings. The only difference is we are experiencing it from different viewpoints.
The experiencer, the ego is different, but the essence of our experience is the same.
The viewpoint from which we experience life is based on which body we are born in, but it’s essentially the same life! The person we currently are right now, may be white, black, rich, poor, Hindu or a Muslim, we did not chose it. What’s more important is, it makes absolutely no difference what those details are to the essence of being alive as a human being.
Do you see it?
Superficially we are different, but we are similar in ways which are so profound, that it renders the differences between us completely frivolous. Yet, we often cannot see past the superficial differences.
We mistake the differences of race, religion, status, sex, age or genes to be absolute differences, which they are not. This isolates us from each other. This Isolation creates mistrust. Mistrust creates fear. Fear, eventually creates violence. Violence leads only to destruction and anger. Anger creates retaliation and more violence. This amplifies our superficial differences, and the cycle continues. The world is perpetually in conflict.
As I said earlier, superficial differences when perceived as being absolute differences, creates the feeling of being isolated or alone. Once we feel lonely, naturally a desire to connect with others is born. This need for security, makes us want to form groups based on some common theme or ideology. We hang out with like minded people, because that makes us feel secure.
Forming a group based on ideology, brings security, but ironically, it also creates insecurity!
People in ideological groups feel secure only as long as they don’t run into other bigger groups with opposing ideologies. So they want to become larger and stronger in search of security, which they just lost. They create propaganda so others who take to it can join them. Voluntarily joining is preferred, if not, force is always an option.
Ideological groups, no matter of what kind they are, want to spread their beliefs and traditions so that their future remains secured, and their lineage survives. They do not realize that their continuous desire of security is making the whole world insecure.
All ideological institutions are created by people out of fear. Fear arising out of a belief that they were isolated or different, when in reality they weren’t.
Is there a way to go beyond this problem? Of course there is. If there wasn’t then humanity would have no hope. The solution is not pretending that we are similar people and so on. That will not last long. Pretending is a sign of verbal or superficial understanding, we want to move towards actual understanding, which is wordless.
Overcoming Isolation through compassion
To overcome isolation, we must re-learn the reality of what it is to be human. Our current view of reality is based on certain belief systems about the world. These beliefs are often not our own, but inherited from our parents. And our parents probably inherited them from their parents.
Why else do you think most people follow the same religion, values or politics as their parents do?
The only hope we have as a species to survive this century, is to understand each other deeply, to learn about each other without prejudice, bias, dogma or fear.
And the only way to do that is to intensely observe what is unfolding in our daily interactions with people. Listen to people, look at their expressions, hear their words, and beyond the words. Become sensitive to what they are feeling. Watch how you have an image of them before they even begin to interact with you.
To understand a person you have to see not just beyond the image you have of them, but also beyond the image they are projecting of themselves.
If you observe beyond their outer protective shell, they are the same as you. I am the same as you, and you are the same as me. When we learn that others are the same as us, then we begin to trust them. The most hostile people act friendly where there is trust.
Trust is the beginning of compassion. Compassion is to see another as yourself.
Fundamentally all we want is that deep connection to other human beings. That is the source of our happiness, not material objects or pleasurable experiences. We seek material pleasures because the highest pleasure, which is the feeling of compassion towards another human being, is inaccessible to us.
A door to that compassion opens when you are in deep observation of another person, without expecting anything from it. If you can look without self-seeking, then you will see so much more. Clues, hints, intimations and insights into another person’s behavior begin to arise. This kind of observation requires that our mind be quiet.
A total listening and a total seeing is required. Which means that when another person speaks, you hear every word as if it was the most important thing ever said.
To really listen to another person, is to listen as if your life depended on grasping every word which they were saying.
If you can listen and see with that intensity, the true nature of another comes to light.
To see someone’s true nature is a remarkable thing. It is the pinnacle of human experience. In that state it is possible to realize that the concepts of trust or mistrust do not even arise when there is complete harmony with another person. For that much time, their concerns become your concerns. Their fears become your fears, and their happiness becomes your happiness. That state is compassion, a total non-separation from another person.
How to experience that state, is a subject that requires another detailed blog post.
To seek and find that compassion is in my opinion the only way to end the isolation that separates us. That is the only way to know that we are already one.
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