Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thoughts on Human Nature

One last post before October! My apologies in advance for these long paragraphs and even longer sentences. 

There has been a recurring theme in my life this past week, or at least one that I keep hearing about, mostly in my Anthropology class and then tonight at Intervarsity. In Anthropology our teacher really stressed for the first few lectures how we attempt to study cultures, and the things that every human being has in common, and also how they differ. That seems like a really obvious thing, but you can read a lot into it. It's crazy to me how much things are different in some societies that live on the same planet as me, for example, the idea of "consanguineal marriage," in which spouses don't live with each other, they stay in the same home as their blood family for the rest of their lives. Fathers don't father their own kids, but rather the children of their sisters whom they are around all the time. Everyone is essentially brought up getting the same things out of family as we do, just from different people. 

We've talked about culture shock, and how the best way to study another group of people is to totally immerse yourself in it and leave behind all aspects of your own. Our teacher said sometimes when you come back home from field study, the adjustment back to your old life is often the worse culture shock, which I thought was really interesting. So obviously people in this world can be really different from each other, in beliefs, customs, behaviors, etc. But the idea that's been on my mind lately is the fact that there ARE things that every person has in common. This may be entering into religious/spiritual territory, but I believe we were all created with an innate desire for human interaction. God (or whoever is our creator) made us so that we have emotions, and those emotions are affected by how we relate with people. 

One of our assignments in Anthropology is to experience something cross-cultural and write about it. As a last resort due to time constraints, I attended a showing of a Spanish film about a woman in Spain (go figure) who gets by on working odd jobs to maintain a living for herself and her two grown sons, who quite frankly need to get their acts together and a) stop doing drugs and stealing shit, and b) stop being mentally insane. The second one is probably a lot harder to do, given you can't just turn off a malfunction in your brain. But anyway, in the end of the movie the woman has an opportunity for this great life in America with successful, kind people who want her to stay with them, but she ends up going back to take care of her sons when they need help again, despite her constantly saying she was sick of putting up with them. You could tell along that secretly she loved scrubbing floors everyday past the age of retirement, and finding jobs for her sons when they were too messed up to do it themselves. Why? Because she was a mother and she was taking care of her kids - pretty much all she lived for. What would she be if she wasn't needed by them anymore, and had no obligations? 

When writing my paper on the movie, I kept trying to think of the ways Spain's culture is different from ours, but I kept coming back to the idea that it didn't matter how poverty-stricken their family was compared to what I know, or that they spoke another language. All I could think about was how we were the SAME. What mattered in that woman's life at the end of the day was her relationships with her sons, and I feel like that would be the same no matter was culture you were part of. Kind of like the saying "A smile is the same in every language," which I've thought about a lot, actually. We can all relate to one another somehow.  I can't think of any time you could smile at someone and have it mean something offensive, unless there was some strange taboo of showing teeth or something ... everyone just naturally takes a smile for meaning happiness and warmth. 

This idea was driven home tonight by the speaker at Intervarsity. He talked about how there is no reason for us not to reach out to certain people because they're different from us. We can always find something that's similar on both sides. Does everyone want to be successful in life? Yes. Has everyone felt fear at some point in their life? Yes. Have most people experienced the loss of something/one they loved? Yeah, most. 

Another way this truth has manifested itself is through a silly internet website called, that I've used to talk to strangers halfway across the world. I wanted to start keeping a tally of all the countries people were from that I conversed with. When you start up a conversation, you have no idea who you're talking (IM-ing) to, and lots of people will ask "asl": age, sex, location, to see if they want to talk to you. It frustrates me that people will turn down someone who says they're from Korea or India or even Canada probably, because they don't think there will be anything to talk about. I always say you can have a conversation with anyone as long as you speak the same language, because it's true! I've had intense religious discussions with Muslims and Atheists before, and I've had talks with Indian and Chinese girls about love and relationships. Further proof that we all go through the same things in life, no matter what continent we live on.

And just to add on to that mix, I even thought about something similar when I was reading part of Brave New World today. In the utopia the book is centered on, people are born and raised like robots, with no concept of family whatsoever. The word mother is like a swear word because mothers don't exist, and people are completely discouraged at all points in their life from maintaining relationships of any kind. You don't have brothers and sisters. There is no such thing as monogamy or even dating one person. So when they tell the story of one woman who goes to visit a reservation in America (the book is set somewhere in what we call the UK now) and gets stuck there, pregnant, having to give birth to a real child when the culture she was raised in had every single embryo grow and emerge into life from a tube in a LAB, you can imagine how awfully foreign it might have been for her to have to mother the child. She was ashamed at first because it's not what she was used to, but her son grows up and ends up recalling all these instances of her singing to him, teaching him how to read, rocking him to sleep, etc. So far in my reading (and I'm almost done), they haven't addressed the issue of how easily she knew what to do with her own kid, but I was surprised at, well, how easily she knew what to do with her own kid. Except then I thought "Well duh, it's our instinct to care for each other and develop nurturing relationships." See what I mean?? No matter how much you try to decondition people to NOT rely on each other, that basic nature is still there in all of us. Nobody told the woman how to act towards the child she bore, she just learned very quickly and caught on like any normal mother would.

Of course, Brave New World is fiction, and that instance doesn't provide real proof of my theory. But no matter. I'm still counting it. Basically, to tie these ideas together and sum it up: Human beings will always have things in common, mainly the fact that we were made to live with and in the company of other people, and relationships will always have a place in our lives. Our desire for interaction is universal, and such are the similarities that everyone shares that make it possible to relate to anybody in the world.


Danielle said...

Collective unconsciousness.

Boquavv said...

w00t go Danielle.

Anonymous said...

Wow this really moved me, I even mentioned you in my blog because this post was just too brilliant!

Keep up the good work!