A Call For Humanity

adult-black-and-white-child-736428.jpg

Modern Human history is more than 200,000 years old. Throughout time, human beings have showcased miraculous and atrocious achievements. The atrocities are attributed to innate human capacities of acting in self-interest, aggression, prejudice, and cruelty. These qualities typically present themselves when individuals believe (real/perceived) safety is threatened. The miraculous feats are also rooted in innate human capacities. In Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society, Nicholas A. Christakis identities humankind’s “Social Suite”. This, “Social Suite” describes the social attributes and capacities all human beings share. The capacities are:

  1. The capacity to see self as an individual and recognize others as individuals

  2. Sentimental and sustained feelings of love and attachment for partners and offspring

  3. Friendship

  4. Cooperation

  5. Social networks

  6. Favoring a mild form of hierarchy in organization/leadership

  7. Preference for one’s group (in-group bias)

  8. Social learning and teaching

 The human capacity to prefer one’s group is essential for survival. Easily identifiable “friend or foe” and establishing deeply bonded connections are paramount attributes for surviving. Creating communities around similar cultures, beliefs, and interests benefit individuals by nourishing the human inclination to "belong".

The capacity to see one's self as an individual and the capability to recognize others as individuals also benefit the group. Cultivating self-awareness creates a group of diversified strengths and thought. Recognizing the self and others as individuals also cultivates empathy. Empathy and seeing others as individuals are necessary for healthy between-group interactions. When we see others as we see ourselves it stifles the likelihood and frequency of between-group harm. Therefore cultivating the capacity to see self (and others) as an individual is vital for the health and well-being of humankind.

Some societal/political structures stress the emphasis of the group over the individual, whereas, all individual identities are absorbed into an assigned group identity. In these structures, all groups are assigned general traits and characteristics and each individual within the group assume assigned group labels/traits/perceptions. Therefore, the capacity to see as individuals decreases and the inclination for aggression, prejudice and cruelty increases. When human beings categorize individuals according to their group identity, the result is dehumanizing individuals from the “other” group. Societies with an elongated focus on group identity ascend into tribalism which magnifies the social phenomena of “in-group” vs “out-group” dynamics and behaviors. Social Identity theory states that the “in-group” will discriminate against the “out-group” to enhance their self-image and strengthen the group identity. “As soon as you place anyone outside of the circle of “us” the mind/brain automatically begins to devalue that person and justify poor treatment of him (Efferson, Lalive, and Feh, 2008). Therefore, the human capacity for acting solely on self-interest, aggression, prejudice, and cruelty becomes the norm for group interactions.

Compounding the dehumanization process is assigning a “privilege” label to a group. This creates a worldview of “an oppressor group” vs. an oppressed group” and intensifies dehumanizing behaviors. This worldview produces psychological consequences on individuals within all groups while propagating further human oppression. The University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center identifies six predictable human “Thinking Traps”. The narrative of “privileged” vs. the “oppressed” limits human potential by making the “thinking traps” the thinking norm.

 
THINKING TRAP CONSEQUENCE
Mind Reading: Believing you know what another person is thinking or expecting another person to know what you are thinking. Decreased Communication
Them: Believing others or circumstances are the sole cause of all problems. Anger
Me: Believing you are the sole cause of all problems. Sadness, Guilt
Defectiveness: Believing you are fundamentally bad, inferior or worthless. Shame
Catastrophizing: Believing the absolute worst case will happen. Anxiety
Helplessness: Believing you have no control. Passivity
 

21st-century American culture has incrementally placed more value on group identity over individualism than previous generations and the “privileged vs. oppressed” narrative continues to grow. Noticeable effects are fortified rigid ideologies, normalized dehumanization, and hostility between groups, individual injustices prevail and descending into tribalism. Concerning the individual; statistics of suicide, overdose, depression, anxiety and financial insecurities are at all-time highs in American present-day American society.

We and all of humanity are at a crossroads. We either continue the status quo or seek alternative ways of being. Other ways of being are; reinforcing the notion of individual sovereignty and honoring the dignity within the self and dignity of others. Understanding dignity requires the distinction between the “human” and the “being”. Human describes the individual's biology and conditioned personality features and beneath that exterior is the being. The essence of all beings shares the desire to avoid suffering and the propensity to alleviate the suffering of others when encountered. Honoring dignity means recognizing our (humankind's) shared essence and the inherent worth and vulnerability of the conditioned personality (self and others). Honoring dignity bridges between group connections and elevates human potential. Another strategy to decrease the negative effects of tribalism is engaging in practices that celebrate common humanity. Common humanity is described as, “recognizing that pain and failure are unavoidable aspects of the shared human experience (Neff, Rude & Kirkpatrick, 2007) and is not used to devalue an individual’s story, experience or voice for the sake of “we’re all human”. By celebrating our common humanity, we uplift each other’s story, experience, and voice because “we are all human”. Which means we all experience love, joy, loss, and grief. Engaging in these practices decrease the impact of dehumanizing in-group vs. out-group behaviors. Knowing human beings have the capacity for social learning, bringing groups together to celebrate common humanity establishes between-group cooperation, friendships and social networks that provide the skill-sets and perspectives needed for 21st challenges.                      

Keep in mind psychologist and author Rick Hansen's words, “Pay attention to the number of times a day you categorize someone as “not like me,” particularly in subtle ways: not my social background, not my style, and so on. It’s startling how routine it is. See what happens to your mind when you consciously release this distinction and focus instead on what you have in common with that person, on what makes you both an “us.” Intentional practices that celebrate common humanity are essential for decreasing in-group bias and decreasing the likelihood/frequency of human traits such as acting solely on self-interest, aggression, prejudice, and cruelty manifesting. Since neuroplasticity occurs wittingly or unwittingly; we can either cultivate individual sovereignty, common humanity and compassion or continue with the systems and structures that perpetuate aggression, prejudice, and cruelty. When individuals, school systems and communities use dignity as the baseline for interactions, routinely engage in: practices which cultivate awareness and equanimity, practices which celebrate our common humanity and practices which cultivate kindness and compassion towards self and others; injustices will be corrected, well being increased and human potential will be developed to the fullest.

Jason Littlefield