Manunkind

Once again, I turn my mind toward poetry this week. The poem itself is wide-ranging and powerful, covering important topics that I feel ill equipped to grapple with at this juncture. The poet is Victoria Adukwei Bulley and she composed it as part of an initiative at the Victoria & Albert Museum to wrestle with its links to slavery. I encourage you to listen to it in full but I’ll draw your attention to the first line:

Men like you say mankind and mean yourselves, your brothers, and your fathers’ fathers.

When you draw the circle around humanity, in other words, you draw it to include only people like you without thinking. When you consider the human experience, you imagine that the world, in all its beautiful and diverse complexity, is essentially experienced only one way. You do not necessarily set out to exclude but you cannot conceive of ways that are not your ways, people who are not your people, hearts that are not your hearts.

It is not wrong to be self-aware and self-reflective. It is wrong to believe that the way your self is is the only way a self can be. With every concentric, constricting ring whereby you lessen the pool of who counts, those inside lose knowledge and wisdom and empathy while those outside lose respect and dignity and often their lives. Being inside means, all too often, not only that you forget how to look outside but that you forget there’s anything worth seeing out there at all.

I am, time and again, confounded by people who say that they have finally found the limits of who counts, the limits are these, and this is the end of all possible discussion on the subject. To say–with a surety that could melt steel–that others have neglected so-and-so a group while esteeming another group overmuch. To clearly delineate the bounds of the valuable and the valueless, and often to claim that doing so is an act of Truth, Faith, and Love. To assuage the excluded by saying that it’s not so much that they don’t matter, just that they matter differently or less (by which they mean not mattering not at all).

In an odd turn, considering the poem’s colonial/historical/racial context, I’m sitting here thinking about the US Declaration of Independence. About certain truths it claims–erroneously–are self-evident. On the one hand, they were exactly right: all are created equal. On the other, they didn’t actually just say “all,” did they, and they definitely didn’t mean it. They said mankind and meant themselves.

I do not consider myself a utilitarian in the macro sense, but in the micro I think the mindset has, if you’ll forgive me, some utility. There is probably some natural inclination in humanity to seek a ‘tribe’ of those like us. And there are reasons such a drive was useful in the past and is still, in some ways, useful today. But I think we live in an era when the tribal drive has, at best, a declining utility. Not just because it’s exclusive and often very dangerous (when you arm tribalists with nuclear weapons, for example). I feel this way because I think it has limited utility insofar as it limits, at the very least on a personal level, growth. There is some pleasure in living surrounded by people like yourself but there is greater personal utility in learning difference. You will be a better person, I am convinced, when you leave your little circles behind.

It is good to say mankind and consider the wealth of life that the term can include. Perhaps it is better not to say mankind and instead acknowledge the diversity of that life. Perhaps it is best not to say anything, in turn, and simply listen to the stories that life is trying to tell you. As Rilke said, live your life in ever-widening circles.

One Sun

I’ve just finished a lovely book called Same Sun Here by Neela Vaswani and Silas House and I’d like to share some thoughts.

The book is a series of letters written between penpals–an Indian immigrant girl in New York City and a boy in rural Kentucky. And they’re middle schoolers and the book fits with that but it also had some good things to say for non-middle schoolers such as myself. It talked about some of the more obvious things: immigration, racism, Obama’s first election. But also a diversity of other topics, from mountaintop removal coal mining to pets to eviction to mental illness (obliquely).

But the title really got the gist for me. We all live under the same sun. Difference is often what makes friendships interesting but we’re all much more similar than we realize. To deny difference is blind but surely denying the manifold ways in which we are the same is folly of equal, if not greater, magnitude.

There’s been a couple moments recently, and even just this week, when I’ve been really astonished and humbled and honored to witness people earnestly and respectfully seeking to learn more about different people and how to affirm those differences while acknowledging the similarities. Empathy is a cool thing.

Also, here’s a cat update for you. Some snuggles from the desert kitties.

 

This week, I’ve been really thinking a lot about my current joblessness. What I would be willing to do. What I would refuse to do. What are things that I might have to just suffer through. Mostly, I’ve been wallowing a bit because I feel like I’ve paid my dues. Yes, I only worked at Target briefly. Yes, Korea was only one year. But I feel like I’ve pretty much had my fill of doing jobs I don’t want to do. And I feel like that’s kind of justified; I do, after all, have a graduate degree.

I feel like somehow I’m just not applying to the right places, I’ve somehow missed the obvious jobs for me, that I haven’t been looking hard enough, long enough, desperately enough. I feel like I’m really trying. I’ve been pretty promiscuous about where I’ve sent my résumé. It’s a little discouraging. I know I haven’t been at it for that long but still.

On the plus side, I have at least received a couple formal letters declining to hire me, which is more than I can usually say.

The other thing is, of course, what to do if I get an offer at a place I really don’t want to go. I know it’s sort of a thing that you have to pay your dues, the your first job isn’t usually one that you love. But here’s my thing. A) that’s not really a reason, there are not actual dues to pay, you’re just resigned to young people having jobs they hate which I think is dumb and B) can you quantify these dues for me? did Korea count for nothing? how many jobs, how many years until I am allowed to work somewhere I enjoy working?

In summation, capitalism sucks and old people are mean. A bit of a rant, just let me vent. If you know me in person, you don’t need to check up on me, I was just having a moment. I’m like 83% okay which is very fine. Seriously. Don’t worry about it.

Anyway. Here’s the finale to this round of Songs Keegan’s Been Listening To. Maybe YouTube one or two if you feel so led. If not, move on with your life. Until next week.

  1. Glorious – Macklemore feat. Skylar Grey
  2. From Nowhere – Dan Croll
  3. Netflix Trip – AJR
  4. Back of the Car – Miike Snow
  5. Lost in Japan – Shawn Mendes
  6. Science Love Song – ASAP Science
  7. Making Money – Ben Rector
  8. Delicate – Taylor Swift
  9. Mystery of Love – Sufjan Stevens
  10. Torches – X Ambassadors