The Human Condition
I have often considered what, if anything, outside of our living on the same planet, best expresses or defines what we all share as human beings, our commonality if you will. I excluded that we live on the same planet, have the same genetics and that we all can think, talk, eat and so forth. Certainly all of these have an impact on how we live, but I wanted to go beyond the obvious and mundane to a root idea or concept.
Is the need for contact with other humans what we share, or that we want to have things or that we strive for something more? I do not believe these expressed the commonality I sought. Moreover, while we certainly do not share a common set of values, or belief systems it occurred to me that what we do share is that we all believe in something beyond what we can perceive. People believe either a religious or a spiritual truth, or that science will eventually unravel the mysteries of the universe. For a while, I entertained the notion that belief was what I was looking for; however, it did not really help me define what we share for the fact we can believe in anything is a product of our existence.
Over time, this internal conversation shifted to one of trying to understand or define the “human condition”. Looking up the common understanding of this term, I found that it used as a reference to the distinctive features of human existence. Further, that as mortal entities, there are biologically determined events that are common to most human lives, and some that are inevitable for all, and the ongoing way in which humans react to or cope with these events is the human condition. I had already considered and moved past the first part of the above definition, the second I could not get by so quickly. Certainly if there is a definition of the human condition it must include that we all must react or cope with events.
I felt it was important that my definition of the human condition reflect the reality that we all must cope with life. This led back to the basic element of life, and the simple fact: all of us are born, we live our lives and then we die. We cannot escape or avoid this truth; the inevitability permeates our lives.
If we look at these three stages we see that we have no control over what body we find ourselves in or the circumstances of our birth, and while we have created the illusion we can control others, and even our time of death we can do neither. When you do think about it you realize that the only aspect of this equation we appear to have any say whatsoever over is the part in the middle, how we live our lives. So how does this help me to define the “human condition”?
I thought and meditated further on what I had learned and finally something clicked. Here we are living our lives and the only aspect of our lives we have any control over is one that consists of physical separateness and there is no guidebook to help us. If we were connected we would know what each other is feeling, we would know what each other is thinking and we could not hide from that; however, we are not physically connected. If we had a guidebook we would understand the meaning of life and everything, and knowing the rules would be able to make our way more easily. Alas, we do not have a guidebook. Certainly, there is joy and pleasure in our lives, yet collectively we struggle through life’s pains and sorrows, through its hardships and turmoil.
All that we see around us is a reflection of our struggles to live, and to do so as we choose all the while not being bound to follow any path in particular. Buddha locates suffering at the heart of the world. I considered whether suffering could be the fundamental element of the human condition. I do agree with the Buddha, at the same time, I was looking for an attribute and suffering is a consequence. What had clicked was the realization that if suffering is the consequence then the attribute I sought must be the cause. What is the cause of suffering I asked myself? My answer was that the cause of suffering is ignorance, and therefore ignorance is the “human condition”.
The general definition of ignorance is lack of knowledge, education, or awareness. This can be seen everywhere we look. Our ignorance has manifest into the various forms of discord and conflict we see in our world, in our countries, our neighbourhoods and our lives. Yet the world consists of individuals and hence what we see on all of those levels is truly the summation of the issues and conflicts within humankind, within that person staring back at us in the mirror.
If this would seem obvious to you, then surely you must ask yourself why have we not done anything about it. The problem with ignorance is that we are generally unaware of the true nature of it. It is somewhat like “the unknown unknowns” in that it is difficult to fathom and can be hard to recognize even when you are looking. It is a rare luxury for anyone to be able and willing to take the time for deep self-examination. Few ever do so and when they do, the purpose is typically to mitigate a problem not necessarily to resolve it.
People do not explore their ignorance because day-to-day living and a noisy world take almost all of their attention. People are far too busy trying to live their lives to look any deeper into their existence. The external world is as compelling as it is distracting. Too few realize that the very source of their issues lie within, and our blinders and ignorance keeps us from looking. So how do we alleviate our own version of the human condition?
The law of inertia applies to ignorance in that unless acted upon by an opposing force it will continue unabated. So, what is there to oppose our ignorance? Certainly it is not the majority of people who even if they considered ignorance as the problem would tend to follow the old adages of “I will if you will” or “you first”. This cycle perpetuates the human condition; however, you would be astute if you recognize that while others may find reasons not to look within to resolve their personal demons, you can.
We are raised and taught by a world that has been mired in the same problems for millennia. There have been those who have tried to raise the awareness of humankind through their teachings, unfortunately once they are gone people interpreted their words and even their intent through the lens of their own ignorance. At this point, much of what remains is the interpretation of their wisdom by the ignorant. So, if we have tainted the wise through our own ignorance, what can any of us do to change our personal human condition? We change our conditions by illuminating our ignorance, and removing the separation between us and ourselves.
© 2009 Allan Beveridge