Humanity is not a cloak that people can put on when it is convenient to do so. Humanity is the word we use for people as a whole, as in all people of all colours, religions and creeds. If some people are denied their part of the whole, that leads to a deterioration of the whole and a diminishing of all the people. We are being called upon to use the essential threads of our lives to weave a culture of genuinely inclusive humanity. This is becoming very clear during these times when we have time and space to reflect on what is really important. Eternal things during these times matter and the current situation brings a clarity of vision and the habitual flow of life is arrested.
The word crisis comes directly from the ancient Greek healers, who used the word to describe a turning point in a disease. In this situation, the disease is racism and division and the change called for to my mind, requires that the pain and suffering be distributed to all parts of the whole. There can be no healing, if certain groups of people are required to carry all the pain and injustice in the system we have. An old proverb says, "If you know what harms yourself, you then know what injures others." Thus, the more a person feels the depth of their own humanity, the more human everyone else becomes to them. Ultimately, there is no neutral place when it comes to granting humanity to all people. Another proverb warns that, "not to aid those in distress is to kill them in your heart."
Most people are familiar with the call for wholeness in the African proverb that says "it takes a whole village to raise a child", which I often cite in these articles. But the second part of that proverbial thought says that "if you don't fully welcome into the village, the young people who are on the edge, they may burn the village down just to feel the warmth." In terms of history, we have systematically failed to fully welcome the essential diversity of all our community. In terms of this moment, the fires have already been smouldering for a very long time.
The question now becomes how do we find humane ways to quell the flames and not allow ourselves to become even more divided and alienated from each other. I would suggest we start by listening - really listening – listening from our hearts.
When it comes down to the nature of humanity, and the essence of the human soul, there are two basic and opposite stories that tend to persist. One story considers each person to be an accidental being, who enters the world as a blank slate or empty soul after birth. Elements of family, social factors and education, shape and define that person's identity and in a sense the value of their life. The blank slate story easily leads to ideas of social determinism, in which entire groups of people can be not just denied opportunities, but also be dismissed as being less than human.
The other basic story of the human soul begins with the sense that each person born brings something essential to life. In this story, each soul is unique and each person is naturally gifted and imbued with meaning and life purpose. Another favourite quotation of mine comes from Plotinus who says that, ‘All souls are born so that the world can be complete.’ In this kind of story, the role of society becomes that of helping each person born to awaken to an inner dream that gives their life meaning and purpose.
This second story is the most universal tale of humanity, in which each person, regardless of race or colour, background or orientation, comes to life bearing gifts, and each can then be seen to have an inner nobility and natural dignity. This is the story that St James as a school is based on. On that basis, no group can claim to be superior, or more human because of race or appearance, because of history or background. On that basis, those who deny the basic humanity and dignity of other people only reveal their own lack of humanity.
History, as people used to say, is written in the depths of the individual human soul. If we insist on denying a genuine sense of humanity to some, we can only continue to lose our way and further lose our own souls. If we open ourselves to the understanding that we are literally all in the same story, each suffering in our own way, we may find genuine ways to help heal and protect each other while restoring a sense of genuine humanity in ways that bring more meaning and more soul and more beauty to the world.
On a personal level I was fortunate to have a father who saw people through his own passions and without judgement of others. The first semi-professional football manager to have black players in his team, Kirk Corbin, who later played for Cambridge United and centre forward John Griffiths. The cricketer Burt Cumberbach was a regular for dinner at our house and I later went on to play cricket with him and other black cricketers for Embrook. Burt is retired to Barbados now and I rang him when the West Indies won the 20/20 World Cup some years ago; he was watching the match with that great West Indian opening batsman Gordon Greenidge. I have talked to Burt many times about the causal racism he experienced in this country in the 80’s and I suppose, naively, I hoped it no-longer existed in 2020.
Our theme next term with be Inclusiveness when we return in September. I feel we have done much in this direction at St James with a truly diverse staffing body and pupil body who meet each day in a spirit of Oneness! Yet, there is always more we can do.