Reflection by Danielle Webber, 14 January 2018
The Growth of humanity. What could that possibly mean? I struggled to describe my concepts to my colleagues as we prepared for this Sunday’s service.
What is your theme and what are some songs that you think would suit it? What is your take away message? How would you describe this theme to children?
I felt flustered while attempting to answer each of these questions. How was I supposed to express my sense of disconnect between the growth of a person, and the growth of human kind? That I saw these two concepts as polar opposites to one another, and that I believed that the growth of one, inhibited the growth of the other?
How do you express that concept in music? Or in a children’s story? Or in a sermon. How do I express my thoughts when they swirl around and are messy on my own head? When I can hardly make sense of them myself?
Well, I suppose the best way to explain something that is hard for one to express, is to start at the beginning, and take one step at a time.
There is no question in mine, or I am certain, anyone’s mind that our species has grown exponentially over the centuries. Anthropologists, sociologists, historians, biologists, and likely many more professionals in different fields of study, would have scientifically verifiable proof of this fact. Humans matured from tribes of hunter-gatherers to civilizations that cultivated the lands. We developed tools that allow us to communicate with the masses, we developed the printing presses, and we developed media. We have discovered truths about our world that at times seemed non-sense and things of fairy tales. Development has been made in our systems of government; in our methods of science and health developments; in our engineering and structural developments; and in our designs and technologies. Doctors have found cures to deadly diseases, such as polio, diphtheria and meningococcal disease. Scientists have put humans on the moon, and sent robots to orbit Saturn. Engineers have built the Chunnel, a tunnel that travels 50.5 km undersea, the Burj Khalifa the worlds tallest building almost 1 km high, and the Bang Na Bridge, the longest bridge for passenger vehicles which reaches 55km.
And yet, with all of this growth we still have not solved some of the most basic needs of human kind – housing and shelter for everyone, making food and clean water available to all who need it. Access to health care, creating a sense of security, and a sense of belonging. The inequality gap among humans has grown substantially, depending on the different categories observed. When we observe this in-congruency between the growth of Humanity, as the totality of human beings, and the growth of Humanity as the quality or state of being compassionate, sympathetic or generous, then perhaps my discomfort, and my inability to describe a theme might make more sense.
When I started Seminary I thought I was going to be taking a degree in how to be a minister. I would be taking classes on how to prepare for sermons, and provide pastoral care. I would be learning how to our history and our polity and governance structure have made Unitarian Universalist Organizations who they are today. I believed that I would learn about church structure, how to support and build leadership and how to perform Rites of Passages.
And while all of these things were part of my education, they ended up being mostly background information to the process of my own formation. The development of my humanity, the growth of myself as a moral person. Class assignments required that I examine my relationships with people who are of a different culture from me. I was asked to remember an encounter from my personal life, and think about the ways that encounter could hold religious meaning – where is the potential for revisiting the source of love, hope, compassion, community, justice? I was asked to ruminate on my pedagogy of learning, and how that pedagogy would shift the way that I educate or minister to people. I was constantly asked to observe my reactions to readings, interactions, assignments and discussions. It was this study of self, of the way that I interact in the world, and the way that I react to the world, and the way that I respond to the world, that I think of when I consider the concept of growing humanity. Which is at such a juxtaposition of the growth of Humanity.
How much different would our world look if the leaders of our countries were required to attend seminary, or even just attend classes where their main topic of study was themselves? Where they had to truly look at their interactions with the world, their reactions to the world and their responses to the reality that we are living in, before they would be allowed to run for political office. Also first responders, and economists, and bankers. What if lawyers, judges, and CEOs had to take classes in empathy and compassion before starting their careers.
The studies of humanities in primary and secondary school – also called social studies – is where students learn about culture, their own and others, or current events, and perhaps small tidbits of psychology and sociology. Perhaps we need to engage the other definition of Humanities during this class, the humanities of being human. What compassion looks like, what sympathy and empathy are, and what generosity looks like. If we taught everyone these key skills, perhaps our world leaders, and most powerful people would be a list of individual’s like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, Che Guevara. People who will let their hearts guide them. Not their heads.
The Reverend Doctor Thandeka, UU Theologian and Scholar who wrote the poem The Legacy of Caring – speaks to this disconnect, this misunderstanding between the humanity of the world and the humanity of the person:
Despair is my private pain
born from what I have failed to say
failed to do
failed to overcome.
Be still my inner self
let me rise to you
let me reach down into your pain
and soothe you.
I turn to you
to renew my life
An attempt to reconnect to the humanity within herself. To let go of the despair, to soothe away the pain. To rise to her inner self - the self that is so harmed, and feels so much failure. The self that can renew her.
I turn to the world
the streets of the city
the worn tapestries of
personal things in the bag lady’s cart
rage and pain in the faces that turn from me
afraid of their own inner worlds.
The humanity that she sees in the world. The humanity of the world, that ignores the humanity of the person.
This common world I love anew
as the life blood of generations
who refused to surrender their humanity
in an inhumane world
courses through my veins.
And yet she can love this word, the humanity within it, and the humanity that generations of people bring to it.
Form within this world
my despair is transformed to hope
and I begin anew
the legacy of caring.
She finds hope. Even though the world is broken and falling apart. Where women carry their belongings around in a cart, or where feelings of euphoria come from a small crystal rock. She can find hope and she can create a practice of caring.
In a society that ignores the legacy of caring, we see people collecting pop cans so that they can buy winter jackets. We see natural disasters reported by the cost of damages, before we can read about the number of people killed, displaced or devastated by the disaster. We see people criminalized for addictions, mental health lapses and the colour of their skin. There is financial penalization for being poor, and financial gain for having money. In the humanity of the world wealth is measured by the number of zeroes in your bank account, the model of your car, the square footage of your house, and your age of retirement. Whereas in the humanity of people wealth could look a lot different.
In our story this morning, we were introduced to a young man who wanted a skateboard. He was tired of having to borrow his friends old skate board, he didn’t like hand-me downs. And his family was struggling to afford things, so there was no money to buy him a new one.
We are also introduced to a gentleman who collects cans in a grocery cart. We know that he used to live in the apartment where the boy lives, his parents remember him being a neighbour, but he now collects cans and is need of a winter coat. By the end of the story Tim is reminded of the legacy of caring. He decides to give the money that was collected from the cans that he gathered to Mr. Peters, knowing that because of Tim’s can collections Mr. Peters didn’t have enough money to buy his coat.
This is an excellent illustration of how children can learn empathy and compassion for others, how they can find hope and learn about the legacy of caring. But what isn’t mentioned in this book is the systems and structures of the world that put Mr. Peters onto the streets. It doesn’t talk about banks making money from the interest on loans, nor the government failing to create systems where homelessness is no longer an issue. It does not talk about cycles of poverty that are near possible to escape. The legacy of caring needs to go beyond individuals helping and supporting their communities. It need to go to a place where systems of power start caring more about the people in the margins, the people at the edges of society, than the people who line their pocket books.
Could we change our world with schools focused on the humanity of people instead of the humanity of the world?
Could we change our world – if we started living into the legacy of caring. Could we change the world if governments stopped running campaigns of tasks to be check off of our to-do lists and accomplishments achieved in timely fashion. If they started to act as if the humanity of a person is more important than the humanity of the world. Is it possible to have a world where the people is power cared more about the basic human needs of shelter, food, security and a sense of belonging than the care about the growth of the economy, the growth of technology, the growth of society?
What would that world look like?
What problems could we fix if we started looking at the humanity of people instead of the humanity of the world?