Compassion Is Found in a 4,000-Year-Old Grave
All too often we are hit with acts of violence so startling that we cannot help but wonder where the world is heading. They seem incongruous to our idea of civilization, and yet there they are, again and again, glaring wounds in the peaceful world we are trying to create. They remind us how thin the skin is that separates our hopes and dreams for the future from our barbaric past. It makes us question if we are even evolving at all.
Recently I have been asked about the condition of our world. How can a man walk into a school and kill 20 innocent children? How can the horrors of tribal violence in Africa still exist year after year with no end in sight? How can thousands of innocent people be made to suffer so that a few in the right seat or with the right corporations can profit?
To me, these abominations are the reminders we all need to keep pressing forward. That no matter how we were created or where we came from, we as a species are still growing and evolving; we are not there yet, but we have reached a crossroads to wherever we are heading. Half of us are striving to rise up from the primordial muck. The other half is so paralyzed with fear that they would rather live in the endless cycle of violence and destruction than gather the strength it takes to rise above.
It is times like these when we need to take a small step back in order to gain perspective on the world and the human experience. If you can, you will see that the random acts of violence, no matter how horrible, are overwhelmed by the ceaseless acts of love and compassion that occur every day. It is these acts of humanity that we must find solace in, because they are in the end what make us human.
We often overlook the kindness we offer to one another in the everyday hustle and bustle of our lives. Yet, they are what have kept humans alive and advancing for hundreds of thousands of years. In all our time on Earth, it is not the big events that change the world, but the small acts of love and compassion that we do every day without even thinking. It is love and compassion that see our children safe in the morning. It is love and compassion that keep our families safe at night. It is love and compassion that cause teachers to reach out and help others when there is little in it for them. These acts are not the exception, but the rule. They have been the light behind the humanity for tens of thousands of years. They always have been and they always will be.
The simple truth is reaching out and helping those who cannot help themselves are what have bonded people together in the worst of times. They have helped us grow and evolve in the best of times as long as we are not afraid to show that we care. Yes, there have always been setbacks that seem to bring us to the brink of destruction, but in pulling back from that brink, we are able to leap forward. They force us to reconsider the value of our lives, to really understand what is important so that we can evolve and become better than we were before. The sadness and regret we feel in the tragedies that befall us force us to see the compassion and love that is within each of us anew. It is up to us to let that out.
If you look around, you will see that it is love and compassion that have kept us alive and define the human condition -- not hate or fear. Every year, archaeologists uncover the remains of a distant ancestor who, due to disease or injury, could not have possibly cared for themselves in prehistoric times, let alone the modern world. That means that one of their tribe paused in their own fight for survival in order to care for them. With nothing to gain and at great risk to themselves there is only one way one of our ancestors would do such a thing -- out of love and compassion.
A recent excavation from 4,000 years ago held the remains of a young man. His vertebrae were fused, his bones were weak, he had little use of his arms; so badly crippled was he that he could not have fed himself or been anything but a burden to his tribe. In those times, there was no reason to feed him or to keep him alive. Yet the people of his tribe did. They kept him alive for 10 years after he became the victim of what is now known as Klippel-Feil syndrome.
This is not an isolated case. Archaeologists have in fact uncovered more than 30 sites where "the disease or pathology was so severe, they must have had care in order to survive." It is why archaeologists are convinced that even Neanderthals reached out to care for each other more than 45,000 years ago.
So why in the wake of our recent tragedies am I bringing up a grave from 4,000 years ago? What does this say about our "modern" civilization? It tells me that love and compassion are, and always have been, a part of our makeup; they are the traits that have kept us moving forward and evolving, not violence or the "drive to win." They remind me that love and compassion are what being human is all about. They are what keep us helping each other, reaching out to each other, and yes, ensuring we continue to grow together.
What happened in Newtown, Conn. was reprehensible. The fact that one person had the means to conduct such atrocities against so many innocents is barbaric, which is why it is so important to remind ourselves that the acts of violence we see again and again are the exceptions to the human condition, rather than the rule.
I find some solace at the thought of a 4,000-year-old grave holding a crippled man who was kept alive, not by self-serving survival, but by the love and compassion of those around him. It reminds me of what it is to be human. When I read about our history, I see again and again how we have taken ourselves to the brink of destruction, yet we have always pulled ourselves back from it. I am heartened in the morning when I pass by cars and see that not one of their windows have been randomly smashed in the dark of night. These are signs to me that humans are basically good, that we are driven by love and compassion; not hate and anger.
It keeps me hopeful that the worst of times will not be in vain if we can just learn from them to ensure they never happen again, and to ensure we continue to do what is needed to help all humans be just that -- human.
Thank you to James Gorman for the inspiration for this blog.
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