May 14, 2014

Removing Cultural Barriers to Appreciate Our Common Humanity

The Divergence

The current archeological view is that all human beings alive today are the decedents of a single ancestor who lived between 140000 and 150000 years ago in Southern Africa. It also appears that mankind spent the majority of this time on Africa, only leaving the continent around 40000 or 50000 years ago. For most of that African past we resembled San people, who are the people alive today who are thought to have the most in common with our earliest ancestors.

The original population of Africa by people appears to have been slow. The speculation is that it was opportunistic, with people being principally concerned with the hunting on the other side of the mountain rather than what lay on the other side of the world. When we left the continent, however, the great divergence began. Like the proverbial story of Babel, people diverged into the far corners of the globe developing in the process into people who looked different, who spoke different languages and who behaved in very different ways. The human story of the last 50000 years is a story of divergence. Humanity became diverse and developed seemingly incompatible ways of life.

The Convergence

However, the globe is just that, a globe. When divergent forces move far enough away from each other on a circular surface they end up converging on the other side. This is exactly what has been happening to mankind over the last century. If you go to virtually any city in the world today you will find all of mankind there. You will find all the races represented. You will probably find languages spoken from every continent if not every nation. We are entering a fundamentally new epoch in the human story. We are entering the time of convergence where the diversities of mankind are no longer separated by large distances.

To succeed at the time of convergence must mean that we have discovered our basic humanity, that common element which transcends our diversity of race, language, culture and religion. If we are not going to wipe each other out at this time it will mean that we have discovered the core of being human that lies beyond our differences. It would mean that we have rediscovered ubuntu, humanness.

Ubuntu and Intent

Two people from different cultural backgrounds may do things to each other that may be construed to be discourteous and unacceptable on a behavioral level. The eye contact of a person from an Afrikaans background is normally very direct, whereas that of a person from a traditional Tswana background is much softer. Initially when these two people meet they may both establish a negative view of each other since each experience the behavior of the other as offensive. The Afrikaner experiences the Tswana to be shifty and the Tswana experiences the Afrikaner to be invasive.

Should these two people each take the opportunity to find out what the other person intends with their behavior their view of each other is very likely to improve substantially. What the Tswana will learn is that when the Afrikaner is looking him the eye he is saying that he is being honest and straight. That he has nothing to hide. What the Afrikaner will learn is that when the Tswana is softening his eye contact it is a mark of respect and of not being predatory or invasive.

Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk

Both will essentially discover the same about the other. Both willdiscover that the other party intended to be correct with them, that they intended to treat each other with courtesy and respect. They both had the same intention and that intention was benevolent. Once this has been established they are likely to be a little embarrassed with regard to their own presumption because they will find something which they have in common, namely intent. There can only be divergence on the level of behavior since behavior is culturally determined. If we seek to converge it will only happen if we have understood the issue if intent. The key variable that accounts for ubuntu or a humanness that transcends all culture is that of intent.

>What is thus crucial for humanity in the current age to to be deliberate about seeing beyond superficial differences and recognizing the similarity that underlies these differences. Every human on this planet is capable of love and benevolence. We must be deliberate about seeing this in the culturally prescribed ways of being. We must see the goodness behind the apparently offensive.

Maturation: The Human Being Becoming

At the level of intent all human beings are the same because the problem of intent is wired into the essence of being human. Being human is not a static thing, it is a moving thing. In a sense to be human is to be part of an ongoing process of maturation. This process of maturation is pinned between two points, namely birth and death. Both birth and death have an unconditional character.

At birth the totality of an infant’s potential lies before it. It is therefore here to get in the fullest, most unconditional sense of the word. It is equally true that at the moment of death one loses it all unconditionally. We arrive getting it all and we leave giving it all. The process of maturation that transmutes our lives implies a movement from one extreme of unconditional getting to the other of unconditional giving.

The difference between giving it all and having it all taken away lies in the intent of the one who is doing the giving. For example, assume that I have R100 stolen from me and my wife gives a neighbour in distress R100. There is clearly a huge difference in terms of how we experience what happened. I will be of the view that I was taken from and she will be of the view that she gave. That difference does not sit in the R100, it sits in the intent of the person going through the experience. I was taken from because I did not intend to give.

The process of the maturation in the direction of unconditional giving is, therefore, a process of the maturation of the will or of intention. All human beings are born and they die, irrespective of their cultural heritage. We are all here to face the same exam of irrevocable loss. To succeed at being human and to rediscover ubuntu means to cultivate the capacity to give unconditionally and recognize that capacity in others. Fundamentally we are the same even though we might manifest our fundamental humanity differently as a result of cultural diversity.