What We Talk About When We Talk About "Common Humanity"
A few years ago, when I decided I wanted to teach mindfulness, I struggled with what to call my business. I didn’t want my name to be part of it, but I couldn’t seem to find the right sentiment. Towards the end of my teacher training we discussed the concept of “common humanity”, and I knew almost instantly that I wanted to convey this message through my work: we are all human. Upon meeting someone new, we always seem to look for what separates us first. It’s not our fault; our brains are wired to look for threats in any given situation (social or otherwise). Whether it’s our religion, social status, political affiliation, favorite sports team or a preferred clothing brand, we seem to know how to identify our differences and to think there are only a few people we can be friends with or could reasonably understand us on a personal level.
This quote by Albert Einstein really speaks to me and my mission: “A human being is a part of the whole called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
We seem to think that our love, our depression, our shame, our guilt, our joy, or our insecurity is something that could never be understood by anyone else (especially when we’re feeling that way ourselves). It’s also easy to think that those few people in our personal sphere that we care for are the only people we should love, be compassionate towards or listen to.
But those thoughts couldn’t be further from the truth and are personally limiting.
I was given the best lesson in common humanity while working for an international company in outside of Berlin about 10 years ago. Our core team consisted of around 150 people from over 20 countries. There were many people from cultures that I had never encountered before (including German culture)! What was fascinating to me was that not only did we share English as a common language, we were alike in more ways than we could ever imagine. Of course, we all had parents and many of us had siblings. We all had gone to school as children, and most of us attended a University.
We had all been shaped and influenced by popular culture: movies, television, and music. We all had a shared “history” of sorts, no matter what our country of origin. We were roughly the same age, and many of our grandparents had been directly affected by WWII. We all remembered September 11th.
Yes, of course, we were different. My life experience wasn’t exactly the same as my colleagues from Delhi, Moscow, Mexico City or Dublin…but we could understand and empathize with each other. We also had the shared experience of being far from our families in an unfamiliar country. On a more basic level, we all could appreciate the shared human experience. We had all made mistakes. We had all loved; felt the love of another; lost someone we loved.
That particular experience taught me (a girl from Iowa that grew up in an incredibly homogeneous community) that while the world is a big place, there are people from all over that are very much like you ready to teach you things, walk beside you and befriend you.
Through my work, I hope to cultivate the notion that we are never alone. We are never alone in our grief, joy, sorrow or our triumph. Especially in your darkest place…you are never, ever alone. If you have the courage to reach out, you will be surprised at the response you receive. You don’t have to look far to find a person that feels like you do or has experienced what you are currently going through. I am also adamant that we all have something to learn from each other. We all carry some piece of knowledge that can benefit someone else. Which makes us unique…not separate.
I’m not trying to convince you that we should (or even could) sit in a circle and all sing “Kumbaya”. We will probably never be a world full of humans that can all embrace the oneness that Einstein points to. There will always be divides between countries and cultures as well as between neighbors. It would be naive to believe otherwise.
However, what difference could we make in the world by identifying more commonalities with our neighbors, our colleagues, our community? We could develop more empathy and bring more kindness and warmth into the world…and isn’t that something worth investing time and energy in? Mindfulness and meditation help to cultivate more compassion and learn more about ourselves, which in turn can help us uncover more of our similarities and reveal that we are all “only human”.
Common humanity shows us that we are all important, we all belong, and that we are all in this together.
~~~~ Common Humanity, Center for Mindfulness has many opportunities for you to sprinkle in more mindfulness into your life during the new year. Whether you’re looking for a drop-in meditation class, an eight-week MBSR course or a five-hour Day of Mindfulness “mini-retreat”, there’s something for everyone. Kim has also developed a Work Mindful program that can strengthen focus, prevent burnout, and promote teamwork within businesses. Please visit Common Humanity’s website for a full list of upcoming courses and events, and feel free to contact Kim with any questions that you may have; she would be happy to discuss them with you. www.commonhumanityberlin.com