Compassion and Humanity

In his marvellous book “Happiness”, Matthieu Ricard told of research that showed how someone lying beside a path, seemingly in distress, attracted the attention of only 15% of passersby. But once he put on the jersey of the local football side 85% stopped to help. The research concluded that people are much more inclined to come to the assistance of someone with whom they believed they had something in common.

As we have observed in other blogs, we are often caught in the tension that ego creates, because ego is always wanting to highlight our separateness, our specialness. Yet our humanity is built on a huge foundation of commonality. Our DNA confirms the commonality of our primal ancestors. Many traditions attest that the very essence of our humanity, our consciousness, is in fact shared. Despite what we might believe, our commonality is far greater than our differences.

George E Vaillant, in “Spiritual Evolution” wrote:

…both biological and cultural evolution have brought non-relatives – not just siblings – together to help each other and help transform a dangerous tribal, clannish world into a safer, more unitary hive.

This is an indication of a growing appreciation of our commonality. And from this comes marvellous benefits. We call them kindness and empathy. To be in the presence of another person who accepts us as we are, gives us the benefit of the doubt, cares what we think, and assumes we will act generously is an immensely gratifying experience.

Despite the terrible things we sometimes do to each other, compassion is pervasive. Hardly any of us is unmoved by the separation cry of an infant. Who of my age can forget the image of a naked little girl running and screaming along a Vietnamese street covered in napalm. Some say this might have had more impact than anything else on the ending of that terrible conflagration.

And is it any wonder that all the great religions of the world espouse compassion? Despite the fact that they emanated from very different geographical and cultural backgrounds, all the major religions espouse compassion. There is something in most of us that can arise above ego and recognize our commonality as human beings.

It is evidence in support of the statement by the Dalai Lama that “Basic Human Nature is compassionate.” Our egos strive to differentiate us, but at the essential essence of our being we have more in common than we believe. The truly human of us know that you don’t need to wear my football team’s jersey, don’t have to be of my race, don’t have to be of my nationality, don’t have to be of my religion to share your humanity with me.

Listen to the words of Erwin Schroedinger. (Schroedinger was not a philosopher in the traditional sense, not a mystic – but the founder of quantum mechanics!)

“Inconceivable as it seems to ordinary reason, you – and all other conscious beings as such – are all in all. Hence this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence but is in a certain sense the whole.”

Then there is no need to search for that element of commonality so that you might be disposed to display empathy to others. We are all as one and knowing this we must empathise with that egoic illusion that is each and every one of us.

5 Replies to “Compassion and Humanity”

  1. I am starting to conclude from my own thoughts as well as from reading your Blogs, Ted and reading some of the work of Phil Harker that we are not evolving to a point of dissolution of separateness. At least not at a DNA or instinctive level. This is not to say this is not happening because I believe and hope that it is. I think though that our Darwinian Evolution is actually an inhibitor to this preferred direction. Despite some hints that Darwinian evolution supports altruism in previous blogs I still can’t see this. Perhaps you could try and convince me in a future Blog Ted 🙂

    My belief at present is that at the fundamental level the ego is a product of the first million or so years of our evolution. A good strong ego has always resulted in a better chance of passing on our individual DNA. The last few thousand years though has seen a change in this to the point where we perceive beyond the family to the clan to the town to the state to the country and now even to the alliance of nations. We have been prepared to sacrifice ourselves for our and others children for a very long time but now we also sacrifice ourselves for our country or society (a relatively recent phenomenon I suggest). The end game here is that we associate with the planet and all humanity. Global issues like climate change (real or otherwise) are assisting society along this path. At the logical conclusion of this though we still are not necessarily as individuals perceiving the oneness of the Universe. Most of us obey the laws of the land now but there is every indication that when the enforcement of the laws is not there our primitive instincts take over. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is an example of this. I conclude therefore that the outward signs of “consideration for others and the community” that we display is not an indication that we are internally evolving towards oneness, but rather that society is evolving. Two separate evolutions I believe exist one is the evolution of the individuals that make up the species the other is the evolution of society. The evolution of society does still occurs within us though. Through education and the media, the frontal lobes of our brain are already programmed with societal norms by the time we are teenagers. Because of the enormous capacity of our frontal lobes we have almost limitless capacity to evolve at this level and it can happen at speeds that make Darwinian evolution look like a snail with a missing foot.

    So at the end of all this I see Darwinian evolution (occurring in our genes) to a fair extent in conflict with Societal evolution (occurring in our frontal lobes) while at a separate and only mildly related level I see some individuals perceiving or working towards perceiving a oneness of all things. Darwinian evolution alone will not result in oneness. Societal evolution is an assistance to obtaining oneness but it alone is not oneness. The quest for enlightenment I believe is a personal individual thing that comes from knowing and understanding the self, the state and society and then forgetting about them. They are as they should be, perfect.

  2. According to recent studies into genetics and human evolution, the rate of evolution is increasing. As a species, genetically we are growing more diverse.

    Since we supposedly left the African plains some 75 to 50 thousand years ago different ethnic populations have formed with significant genetic diversity. A few examples of such are skin pigmentation, tolerance or susceptibility to certain diseases and predispositions to particular diets. Many Chinese and African adults apparently cannot tolerate milk whereas most Europeans can.

    The religous concept of a Universal Oneness somehow has never really struck a chord with me. At the same time the genetic data showing the tree diagram of all life’s common heritage does little either in fostering a belief in the Universality of all things.

    I’m sure we would all like to feel as though we are a part of a greater Something. Despite these feelings however the rational “me” simply cannot justify it. The Universe as observed so far seems to be a random and violent place and life struggles to find a place to call home. It is I believe this harshness and an acknowledgement of the fragility of life that promotes a sense of compassion for other living things and the need for community. The knowledge that “there but for the grace of God go I” resonates even though I have no god beliefs. The good Samaritan was always my favourite bible story as a child and I agree with the Dali Lama that “Basic Human Nature is compassionate”. Hopefully the Hurricane Katrina stories are disproportionally focussed on the negative side of human nature through the media’s need to sensationalize.

    As Greg has highlighted above Societal evolution has the capacity for rapid change and this may well be put to the test in the coming decades. Maybe the element of commonality that Ted has referred to as having the ability to promote empathy could be replaced with an acceptance of the knowledge of our increasing genetic differences. In this way we can acknowledge the beauty and uniqueness of all life without the need for our outdated tribal belonging – which ultimately leads to the negatives of nationalism and a good many other ….ism’s.

  3. I thank you both, Greg and Bruce, for your astute comments.

    I don’t want to resort to semantics or mysticism, but the understanding of our Oneness is not subjective. How could it be? Once I separate the knower from the known Unity is lost. The comprehension of Oneness (or perhaps Brahman as the Vedanta Way would describe it) must always be non-dual. As a result it stands outside traditional reason and is only approached through intuition.

    Now I am going to challenge you. The universe of beings and things is one homogeneous and undivided existence. The universe is a manifestation, perhaps a creation of Consciousness. There is thus only one life, one consciousness that pulsates through the universe. Oneness of existence is the basis of all ethics, morality and love.

    Ken Wilbur in his marvellous text, “The Spectrum of Consciousness” states “Reality is a level of Consciousness and this level alone is real.” He follows, “So by stating that Reality is a level of Consciousness, we mean nothing more than, nothing less, than a state of awareness wherein the observer is the observed, wherein the universe is not severed into one state that sees and another state that is seen. For if it is by this mutilating severance that the universe becomes false to itself.”

    Perhaps you might argue I am taking the easy escape route when I say to you reason, with its reliance on observation and duality can never arrive at the conclusion of Oneness. Remember I wrote a blog on “Another Way of Knowing.” Well I didn’t want, at that time, to stretch the credulity of my audience and say this other way of knowing is intuition and this is the only way that the eternal, all encompassing Oneness can be perceived – but in fact that is the case.

    At a more mundane level, your arguments that evolution is actually causing more difference ( which is true) seems counter to a movement to Oneness. I could argue that these physical effects are not as important as what it is doing to us spiritually. But even the physical diversity that evolution is creating in humanity is useful. Limited diversity creates stark contrasts. When the world is only black and white there is little diversity but the contrast is stark. When we are faced with the huge array of differences that occur between human beings we actually notice them less.

    But in the end the debate we are having goes back to the concept of duality that I touched on previously. The prime duality that is created once self is perceived as separate from All (Atman separated from Brahman) leads to the illusion of separateness and it is very difficult to overcome.

  4. Thanks Ted, Yep this paragraph is a challenge.

    The universe of beings and things is one homogeneous and undivided existence. The universe is a manifestation, perhaps a creation of Consciousness. There is thus only one life, one consciousness that pulsates through the universe. Oneness of existence is the basis of all ethics, morality and love.

    I will think on it. I started to write down my thoughts but couldn’t. How can I describe reality when I am not reality. Very strange.

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