WE LIVE IN AN IMAGINARY WORLD OF OUR OWN MAKING.
We have divided the earth into countries, territories and regions, while at the same time we have divided ourselves into nationalities, ethnic groups, tribes and clans. And what is the point of all this? Why does the human race feel compelled to constantly make life an endless game of “us vs. them” particularly when the results of this action is so deadly? Why do we refuse to accept everyone as part of the human family? Why are we driven to exclude those who look different from us, those who speak another language and those whose culture seems strange to us? Why do we automatically feel superior to anyone we don’t take the time or trouble to understand?
It has been pointed out many times that when you view a photograph of the earth taken from space you are looking at landmasses without lines drawn on them. It is momentarily startling to see a continent that has not been endlessly carved up into one small nation after another. The photos simply depict oceans and land with virtually no evidence of mankind’s existence. The images are beautiful, with a purity and truth about them that we at first feel inclined to deny. We don’t like to admit to ourselves that the scourge of nationalism, that has resulted in so many wars and conflicts, is entirely our fault. We don’t like to admit that the imaginary lines we have drawn in the dirt are the ridiculous reason we have slaughtered innocent women and children for centuries. We don’t like to admit that the division of humanity is ongoing and never slows down.
Americans feel like this view of the world is incorrect without the boundaries of each of our states being clearly marked. It is jarring to see the European continent simply as one continuous area without all the postwar divisions that cost millions upon millions their lives. It is breath-taking to see the huge continent of Africa without the constantly changing borders of new nations popping into existence. In the U.S. we fought our own Civil War as states turned on each other. To this day there is ill will harbored by some over the resulting victory that united the nation. In almost every region on earth there is division between people. This group doesn’t like that group. That group doesn’t trust this group. This group has all the power and takes advantage of other groups. The hatred and abuse are endless and so is the misery it causes.
Our species feels the overwhelming need to classify, judge and exclude entire cross sections of humanity to keep them away from us at what we feel is a safe distance. We don’t want to share a national border with them let alone a city or, God forbid, a neighborhood. We want them to keep to themselves with their “own kind“, meaning anyone other than us. One of our favorite excuses for such intolerance is that life moves too quickly. We don’t think we have the time to try to understand different cultures or beliefs. Let them think the way they want and let us think the way we want. We convince ourselves that it is not necessary to try to understand others. It is a mistake humanity has made throughout history and if our attitudes don’t change we will continue to make it in the future.
We do not see the face of extreme poverty. It is hidden away as we struggle to separate ourselves from those in lower economic classes. We want no part of them. They have no jobs, they can’t feed their families and they are all sick with something. Fortunately, they are on the other side of the world so we do not have to witness their daily struggles to survive. The last thing we want is to feel guilt about people we don’t have time to care about or understand. It is their problem – let them deal with it. And with that declaration we try to wash our hands of the whole affair. We fill up our lives with trivial, meaningless activities that drain us of our free time and numb us to what we could be doing that would benefit others. By staying busy we keep our minds off of the unpleasant things in life such as children being maimed by land mines or a little girl dying from a single mosquito bite or a young boy starving to death in the dirt. Out of sight – out of mind is the motto we live by.
Our failure to recognize the equality of every person on earth results in our ability to shrug our shoulders and turn away as 10,950,000 human beings needlessly die each year from extreme poverty. To us it is just a number. We do not see the anguish on their faces or hear the desperation in their cries for help. We do not watch them, broken by sorrow, dig small graves for their children that die before the age of five. We are not aware of the horrific maternal mortality rate faced by mothers who courageously try to give birth in poverty. All of these terrible things happen to “them” not “us”…and that is the point. As long as we view a problem as something that is far away and doesn’t affect us directly we have little interest in learning about it, let alone solving it.
With the comfortable standard of living we enjoy in the West we don’t really understand the type of extreme poverty that kills more human beings each year than war or cancer. We are not familiar with suffering on that scale. We have no reference to that level of misery in our own lives so it is difficult for us to relate to the fact that more than 6 million children die each year just from hunger related causes. But even when we do hear the heartbreaking statistics we fail to appreciate the underlying humanity that is represented by each number. We do not comprehend the horror of a small child’s lifeless body after they are showered with shrapnel from a stray bomb and become what we nonchalantly refer to as collateral damage. We do not sense the fear and hopelessness felt by a 7-year-old who has been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. We do not appreciate the physical pain and shame felt by women who have been systematically raped as part of a campaign of terror conducted by one ethnic group against another. All of these things, and many more, escape our understanding, in part, because we refuse to accept the victims as equal members of the human race.
If we would put as much effort into trying to unite humanity as we do in trying to divide it the results could change the world. The time, resources and effort wasted in the attempt to enforce the divisions we currently have, as well as constructing new ones, is a tragedy played out on a global scale. If the same money, energy and creativity could be used to help human beings instead of arming them for war we could save the lives of millions of innocent children trapped in the horror of extreme poverty. If we could focus on the countless things we all have in common instead of our perceived differences there would be far more compassion and understanding in the world. If we would only realize that we are ALL basically the same, life on earth would be enriched beyond measure. The thought that we are all part of one humanity is not just an abstract idea or concept…It is the absolute truth. Whether we choose to accept that fact is up to each one of us.
WE ARE ONE HUMANITY, SHARING ONE PLANET, AT THE SAME MOMENT IN TIME. WE MUST TREAT EACH OTHER WITH DIGNITY AND RESPECT.