I have been thinking about being human ever since I was a boy in the East Bronx, in the forties. As a child I had the notion that I could go anywhere safely because I was sure I would be recognized as a fellow human being by anyone I met. The Bronx, like Alameda, had such a diverse population that it seemed representatives from all the world were around and I could easily see our common humanity. They would also, I reckoned, see mine.
Life, and the daily news reports from around the world, have since disabused me of this idea. Secretly though, I continue to believe that in tight situations I could defuse danger by radiating my humanity. It has all given me more to ponder about the Human Condition and those of us afflicted or blessed with it. The absence of tolerance and understanding among so many groups is frightening.
It took me a while to realize that we are all, each of us, a repository of both the good and the bad. “Angels” walk among us delivering succor every day and their work will never run out because of the “devils” who walk among us as well. Often, they are the same people.
It’s possible we can go on like this indefinitely, destroying people and lives with one hand and rebuilding them with another, trashing the Earth in one place and restoring it in another, blindly competing in one sphere and cooperating in another. It’s possible but I think the probabilities are not very high that this way of life we follow will end well.
How anyone can have even a rudimentary education and not realize that we are all in this together is almost beyond me. I understand the tunnel vision that we live with that focuses on me and mine to the exclusion of all else, but our leadership seems to have lost sight of the long term needs of life on Earth.
It seems like we will not be able to keep ourselves from irreparably changing our environment for the worse, breaking every system that can be broken and following the lemmings over the cliff.
I would like to insert several paragraphs here about all the positive developments I see happening, all the pathways that have been illuminated to a better world, but right now I don’t have the heart to do so. While I feel optimistic about the future I’m not sure optimism is warranted. By the time a billion-plus Chinese and a billion-plus Indians and the continent of Africa follow us into the middle-class with cars and homes and worries about paying for college, the Amazon basin and the Congo basin will be denuded, the globe will be hotter, the weather stronger and more troublesome and the seas acidic and filled with jellyfish.
We know this and don’t seem to be able to slow the process down, let alone bring it to a halt. “We couldn’t help ourselves,” may well be humanity’s epitaph. So fitting.