The word “humanity” is defined in some ways as “the quality or state of being humane”. Humane is defined as “marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals”
In todays’ world, with the preponderance of tragic and awful news that makes human beings look less humane, one can easily wonder if humankind has lost its humanity. While the news media may thrive on the negative and often-times very horrific aspects of stories, there are still countless positive stories that go unnoticed and unreported.
With the introduction of the social media phenomena, that trend of passing on negative and tragic stories is amplified even greater. Such stories go viral faster than positive events. We encounter that daily on our smart phones with a plethora of social media apps. I am bombarded with stories of accidents, murders, assaults and other criminal and vicious events.
The same stories are repeated and shared by many. It is mind-boggling. Our neighborhood watch WhatsApp group, a few weeks ago, had a long discussion on what were acceptable posts for the group and what were not. We didn’t quite reach a final agreement but the discussion itself was interesting.
All of this begs the question of what are the effects of spreading, promoting and highlighting these types of stories over more positive and wholesome stories and activities? Should there be none of the former and only the latter, or should there be equal balance? Freedom of speech certainly ensures that all forms are possible.
There is an inherent danger in spreading only negative stories. They are not always true or accurate. Once released, they are hard to retract. We have witnessed several of those types of stories that go viral but are misleading and far from reality. Very recently, there was a tragic story circulating of a horrific crash in Lowlands with graphic pictures of the scenes and the dead persons. It was being discussed and shared. Turns out it was not Lowland in Barbados but Lowlands in Tobago.
Is becoming less sensitive to human suffering one of the effects of highlighting tragic occurrences? Do we become less humane? Over the years, news reporting on very despicable human suffering has increased but we seem less inclined to be overly concerned. The events in Aleppo, Syria, Myanmar (formerly Burma), South Sudan, several countries in Africa and the Middle East, terrorist and other racial attacks in the United States and Europe have all come across our screens in a very vivid manner.
We are repulsed by these human tragedies but then we get reports and scenes from another even more graphic human tragedy. We are now overloaded by such happenings and eventually most of us end up in a state of anesthesia. Yet we cannot afford to lose our humanity. It is what defines us as human beings. Our world has witnessed too much suffering when persons lose sight of their humanity.
Aleppo is our very current example of people who have lost their humanity on both sides of the conflict. And such are the examples in so many parts of the world today and also in history. If we as a people lose compassion, sympathy and consideration for fellow human beings, then we lose our humanity.
I speak to this topic because I recognize that this time of the year is an important one for the Christian world. It is a time that Jesus’s example is lifted up and extolled. My faith equally recognizes his life and example. We may not celebrate it in similar manner and, yes, we differ fundamentally on divinity, but these two major Abrahamic faiths of Islam and Christianity agree on his humanity.
His lessons to his disciples and his short sojourn in this world is a legacy to all those who are looking for positive examples and a life to emulate. He showed by living example what human beings are capable of in the pursuit of all that is good and righteous in the face of evil, injustice and wrongdoing. He lived by the laws of Moses, followed the 10 commandments and equally cared for the lepers, the blind, the poor, the distressed, the outcast and the dispossessed, Jews and Gentiles alike.
“Love your neighbour as yourself” is perhaps one of the greatest statements he left for the rest of humankind to live by. Easier said than done, but Jesus proved to his disciples that it was humanly possible to achieve. Loving your neighbour as yourself is just not a slogan that is to be bandied about. It is not just a season in the year when we are kind-hearted and humane. It is a culture that has to be cultivated and nurtured. And in my mind that is the hardest part.
How do we effectively cultivate such a mindset and culture in ourselves, our families and our society? Ultimately it has to start with us. We have to insist to ourselves to be kind and just. Our example must be one that others will gain benefit. Being humane requires that we work at it. We should never accept that being less humane is a good thing.
So in this season where the homes are all spruced up and the happiness is expected to be spread, let us all remember those who don’t have such joy, who continue to face incredible challenges in their lives. Let us not lose sight of our humanity in pursuit of the materialistic.
As I wrote last year, festivities in all of the major religious faiths have gone very commercial. This is a common lament. The significance of the occasion has been eroded by commercial considerations. Let us reverse the trend and seek to extol the virtues of the occasion and the virtues of human existence. Let us all spread and share happiness and positive news.
“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)