Learning About Humanity and Our Place in It

Philosophical musings have linked faith with the love of humanity. And how do we learn about them?
Every so often a poem makes such a profound impression on me I find it attaching itself to that inner template of what’s right and what’s wrong. And, I guess, all of us come with our own versions of what that is.
Rumi, a poet who lived in the thirteenth century, wrote:
“Out, beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.When the Soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”
Recently, I bought myself a new notebook, to replace my rather battered original, in which to write quotations that have impressed me. And in that one was one from Rumi:
“My Soul is from Elsewhere
I’m sure of that.
And I intend to end up there.”
But this isn’t the poem I’m thinking about right now. It’s one written by Dan Pagis, entitled “Written in Pencil, in the Sealed Railway Car.” And it’s very brief:
“Here, in this carload,
I, Eve
with my son, Abel.
If you see my older boy,
Cain, the son of man
tell him that I….”
For me, these few words bring together just about everything that has had me pondering since I was a very young child. I’m not claiming to be all that different from children born in my generation. Because, in being faced with a second World War in just one century (and with just about twenty years in between) we were bound to ask questions of the adults around us. “How could this be allowed to happen?”
I had asked my father when I was gathering my vocabulary together, “What is war?” He had taken his time in answering; and there were tears in his eyes, when he did. “War is Hell.” He was an elderly parent and had fought in the First World War. He was in a hastily gathered regiment called “The York and Lancs,” made up of many young men taken from whole streets in each county; and more than decimating them. Did any of those who had thought up whatever it was that could not be settled by discussion ever contemplate the mass of grief that would become a pall all over Europe?
And how was it they could be considered to be “Leaders,” when my understanding of the word (taken from my diligent searches of dictionaries) seemed to have elements of integrity in it?
“Uprightness; Honesty; the unimpaired state of anything.”
“Hah!” says the grown woman to the child. “How we kid our selves when we allow others to speak for us.”
And where does Soul come into It, whatever It is?
I guess this was the beginnings of my interest in philosophical musings. Not that these are sufficient, for, as we should know, “The Universe rewards actions, not words.”
“Should” is an interesting word, used when we are talking about what is “right, sensible and correct.” Used when we have strong reasons for “expecting or believing something.” Well, it fits in with the template of learning to be a human being, which has been around since the time of Moses. How long ago is that? While in the 21st century, still we sit, dispersing responsibility, and sitting in the mess we have made.
Hillel was a good man, living in the 10th century (whose father was of the tribe of Benjamin and whose mother was from the family of David; a proper leader, if you ask me) who set up his own school . As one of the Sages of the Mishnah, he posed the questions: “If I am not for myself, who is for me?” and “In being for my own Self, who am I?”
And, as each one of Us is a member of the Family of Man (considering the so many diverse “perceptions” and “opinions” interpreted by so many religious leaders) something else he said is of equal importance: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole of the Torah. The rest is conjecture. Go and study.”
So, this is a space in which to go researching the personalities of those who appear as “Top Men” in our history books. Not a few (in our definition of How to be a Human Being) prove to have feet of clay. The book I found at the back of my mother’s wardrobe actually was called, “How to be Happy, though Human.” I read that when I was seven years old and I’m still trying.
So, how do we learn?
Do we Read, Learn and Inwardly Digest the written word; or look about us, as children, observing the ways our Elders do it? My way was to begin reading both autobiographies and biographies as soon as my vocabulary had the means of tackling the more complex meanings. I’d really tried with the Bible, demanding one when I was six years old and getting very bored with all the slaying. The Book of Genesis and the story of the Creation of the World fascinated me. I rather liked the Psalms. And what The Book of Revelation was trying to impart still remains a mystery.
I learned more from the mediums my mother visited in her vain search for personal happiness, noting the book at the back of the wardrobe had a significance. I learned a lot from Nature, marvelling at the changes in the seasons and the ways that animals survived. I thought I had learned quite a lot when I set out (at the age of seventeen) to find my path. But I had a long way to go, with other human beings. It wasn’t a well-trodden way, because I was relying on my intuition; and that made all the difference. Those of us who do, still have to learn that not all is what it seems; and, sometimes, we can be too idealistic for our own good. All grist to the mill.
Dan Pagis and his poem, which is where I began, was imprisoned as a child in a concentration camp. As a survivor of the Holocaust, in 1946 he found his way to what was to become Israel and became a teacher in a kibbutz. I guess that horrible place he found himself in as a young boy was also a Learning Zone for him. To be a survivor, it has to be. It was for Primo Levi, in Auschwitz, before he wrote, “If This Is a Man;” except, for him, after all of the truly ghastly things that were done there, he shared a terrible dream with fellow prisoners that, back home, telling people of his experiences, they are “completely indifferent.. ..speaking confusedly of other things among themselves, as though I was not here.” The writer Howard Jacobson empathised when he wrote of “the dread to end all dreads-the ever-repeated scene of the un-listened to story.”
Reading, Learning, Digesting, Observing, Listening, Speaking, as we Live and Breathe, taking All in All (and considering what was written above the ancient Mystery School at Delphi: “Know Thy Self. The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living”) that ancient scholar was spot on: “Go and Study.”
And if you choose not to, not only will no one else do it for you, but you can bet your bottom dollar that someone else will try to fill your heart and mind with stuff that goes against your own true grain. That is, I guess, what Soul is all about. Which leads me to the Bigger Question: If this is what We are All About, why do We Do What We Do to Each Other? And when are we all going to sit down to find an answer?

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