Human Family, by Maya Angelou
I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.
Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.
“All is flux” – Heraclitus
Yesterday I started the move to a new office just down the hall. I’d been in my old office since I started teaching at UMass Boston in 2003, and when a new office opened up I was asked if I wanted it. It has some advantages. It’s (slightly) larger than my old one, it’s off the main hallway (i.e., a bit more private), and it has a better view. But another factor is that I simply felt like moving. Sometimes change is good for its own sake — a breath of fresh air.
To make the move easier, I did something I’m normally not too good at, which is letting go of things. I recycled a lot of old files and articles that I had held onto for years. Some of them I’ve kept since graduate school, even though I’d not revisited them in nearly 20 years. It felt good to dump them.
I’d like to say that I don’t need anything. At an intellectual level, I understand that everything is impermanent — organisms, mountains, relationships, nations, memories, jobs, planets. Time devours all things. On the other hand, when we’re in the present moment, some things appear to be really important and worth prioritizing and holding onto.
Maybe I don’t need anything. Except of course, the chair, the remote control, and the paddle game. And that’s all I need. So I do need some things.
Below is one artist’s (Nancy Belmont) illustration of the many ways our lives intersect. In the video, she cleverly gave people yarn which they wrapped around a series of poles representing a number of possible groups to which someone might belong.
When the experiment is complete, we see the full picture and the various ways the participants’ lives overlap and the commonalities people share.
“(There is) a growing body ofpsychological evidencethat indicates that supportive social contact, interaction and inclusion are fundamentally important to a minimally decent human life and, more deeply, to human wellbeing. For the most part, we need one another; we cannot flourish or even survive without each other. These fundamental needs are the ground for a range of rights that we neglect, but should not, including the rights to be part of a network of social connections.
In our individualistic, western culture, where the romantic image of the great loner prevails, it will take some argumentative muscle to show that we should adopt a different model of the ‘strongest man’. We could start with the thought that true strength lies in exposing ourselves to others’ pain and suffering, in being open to intimacy, and in being touched by others’ needs, loves, hates and hopes. The strongest person might well be the one who makes herself vulnerable to others while being determined to survive it and become a better person for it. The strongest person in the world is she who is most connected.”
I’ve tried to make the same case before (see below), that we are all connected and that this stems from our evolutionary roots as social primates. I won’t rehash those arguments here. Rather, it’s just another reminder that we are an obligatorily social species.
Our Essential, Fragile Bonds
Cosmically Connected Primates
According to one estimate, about 108 billion humans have ever lived. The exact number is probably unknowable. However, one thing we can know with certainty is that all of them have been fallible. So far they have also all been mortal. And with billions of years of life behind us, we have enough data to indicate that pattern is likely to continue, unless there is an exception alive out there today (I doubt it).
In any case, the fallible humans have a number of consistent flaws and frailties in our biology — senescence, bad backs, myopia, etc. We should expect evolved beings to have built-in limitations in their biology. My favorite quote explaining why this should be comes from Matt Cartmill, who once said: “Evolution doesn’t act to yield perfection. It acts to yield function.”
Sometimes I tell my students that David Ortiz is the man who has brought me the most moments of happiness in life. That’s only half in jest; he really has compiled an amazing collection of hitting highlights that is hard to match.
Even if you If you don’t follow baseball or have even heard of Ortiz, perhaps you can appreciate that he has tried to use his iconic status for something good. Yesterday, he gave a (very) brief speech before the Red Sox’ game, simply saying: “Let’s be kind to each other, and choose love.”
There are so many reasons to be cynical about a scene like this, but I prefer to focus on the good. Tensions and divisions are high in many places, and we could use periodic reminders — even a brief one from a sports celebrity — that we are all connected.
07/19/16: Boston, MA: Before the game, the teams lined up along the baselines for a ceremony promoting racial harmony. Members of the Boston Police Department as well as civic leaders and clergy, and local youngsters lined up behind Red Sox DH David Ortiz, who spoke briefly. The Boston Red Sox hosted the San Francisco Giants in an interleague MLB baseball game at Fenway Park. (Globe Staff Photo/Jim Davis) (Source)
“Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
– Abraham Lincoln
“Blood just looks the same, when you open the veins.”
– Karl Wallinger (Is it like today?)
If you wish to find someone just like you, who looks and thinks exactly the way you do, then perhaps the only place you can look is in a mirror.
However, here’s a thought. Imagine that as you’re looking at the mirror it begins to move progressively farther away from you. The further away it is, the more time that transpires before the light bearing your image reaches the mirror and returns. If, in this scenario, the mirror should reach, say, the distance of the sun (for the sake of argument, it’s a really big mirror), then the image that you would see is still yourself, only it’s you roughly sixteen minutes ago.
Mirrors, at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles (source)