POEM: Tracing Humanity

Tracing Humanity

They say that
You can tell
A lot
About a person
By what they do
This, of course, is on track
Still, there is a better weigh
The difference between animals and humans
That which earthly scales can’t fathom
Consider what someone won’t do
To trace their humanity
The difference between can’t and won’t
That sacred space
Where freedom occupies
And character reins
Cryptic secrets contain
Not in the telling
By lyings in the sand
But outlined simply in chalk
After words fly
And beings are grounded
You can judge one’s humanity
By where they stand
And where they won’t

Many folks assert that you are what you do.  This may be correct, but it is not the complete story of who we are.  All ethics and morality implies some restraint of power, refusing to do something that we have the power to do.  If we have no choice in the matter, no power to choose anything differently, then you are no more bound by ethics than a billiard ball.  Certainly there are aspects of our lives that are out of our control and these aspects define us to a certain extent.  In addition, our lives are defined by the choices we make, sculpting a positive manifestation of who we are, an example to others.  However, to fully trace our humanity beyond the motion of molecular physics and merely measuring external behaviors, we need to ascertain that which we will not do.  This will more fully complete the outline of our integrity and character, defining our humanity.  Because ethics and morality imply restraint, there is an irreducible type of rebellion at the heart of spirituality — the refusal to do something simply because one can.  In popular psychology, such limits are called boundaries, and boundaries are considered essential to our well being.  These boundaries, the outlines of our humanity, are marked not by words, but by our very selves, whatever skin we have in the game.  What we are willing to die for fleshes out what we are willing to live for.

Nevertheless, many “heady” folks get lost in the puzzling reality that we must voluntarily limit our freedom, in the face of questionable authority, in defining ourselves.  While capturing the rebellion at the heart of spirituality, many are extremely uncomfortable claiming any authority.  They get lost in a related conundrum: by what authority do we question authority?  I believe that the truth that is contained in this conundrum is that an irreducible amount of faith is present in skepticism.  Faith is unavoidable!  What we choose, and refuse to choose, manifests our faith to the world.  I believe that the uncertainty, or tentativeness, that pervades the human condition, is evidence that remaining open is a fundamental way of of being congruent with reality.  Of course, an irreducible amount of tentativeness need not result in perpetual indecisiveness, just openness.  This openness also speaks to a dynamism in life where we adapt and grow in response to changing conditions — may we not settle for less!

Every great spiritual tradition is aimed at openly moving beyond our self, nurturing that irreducible amount of faith present even in skepticism, and not settling for a “self” contained logic or worldview.  This process can lead to greater harmony within our own experience and within the world we live in.

When I see people caught up in recursive conundrums, cursing over and over in frustration, I find this perfectly captured by the French word “oubliette,” which is a little place of forgetting, a small, windowless room where someone is locked away, forgotten, left to go mad.  May you not forget to nurture that irreducible amount of faith present even in skepticism.  Denying that you have any faith is maddening, and the surest route to a room without a view.  Faith is unavoidable; enjoy the view.

Sometimes believing is seeing.  Changing our perspective allows to see more of reality.  Plus, how we view a situation helps form that situation.  Like I used to say to my kids, with the not uncommon reluctance to go to school, “You don’t have to go to school, you get to go to school.”  The same situation with a different attitude changes that situation.  May you find that glorious balance of serenely accepting that which you have no choice about, wholeheartedly jumping into that which you may, and stubbornly resisting that which you cannot take with serenity and a whole heart.

 

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