When we measure humanity against the vast span of nature – from the largest to the smallest, from the most-developed to the least – the differences between those we think to be the most amazing humans and the least amazing are very small.
Yet, when we make ourselves the centre of the universe, the differences are chasmatic.
We accentuate these differences to the advantage of some and disadvantage of the many. One of the most amazing human attributes, compassion makes the difference, making the valuing of and collaboration with others possible. Conscious evolution means we are quite capable of imaginatively extending or expanding compassion. Karen Armstrong writes:
‘Does the need to create a “competitive edge” endorse and aggravate the “me-first” drive that makes us heartless in other areas of life? The acquisitive drive of the reptilian brain evolved for scarcity, not plenty. Do we find it difficult to say “enough”?’*
Instead of leaving others feeling inferior, when we break through the barriers of scarcity into abundance – in employment, food, education, healthcare, commerce, economics – there’s the possibility of encouraging people to explore t their creativity. Lewis Hyde considers this when thinking of the gift each of our lives contains and contributes:
“True worth […] inheres in the creative spirit, and the objects of the world should move accordingly, not to some other, illusory value.’**
We see this happening belatedly, even posthumously, because we’re constantly pushing our thinking around these things. Here’s how Vincent van Gogh felt during a lifetime in which he never sold a single painting:
“What I am in the eyes of most people – a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person – somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short the lowest of the low. All right then – even if they were absolutely true, then I should like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.’^
Elle Luna includes these words in her book about internal and external motivations, dis-mything the idea that many people don’t achieve because they’re lazy:
‘To choose Must is to say yes to hard work and constant effort, to say yes to journey without a road map or guarantees, and in so doing, to say yes that what Joseph Campbell called “the experience of being alive, so that our life experience on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the reality of being alive.”‘
In another place, Joseph Campbell asks:
‘How much of the beauty of our own lives is about the beauty of being alive? How much of it is conscious and intentional? That is the big question.’*^
If we exercise the freedom and opportunity that nature has provided us, it can feel positively illegal because it takes us across boundary-lines drawn up by those who are on top. Rebecca Solnit writes of British walkers challenging the boundaries of ownership drawn by the “haves”:
‘Walking focuses not on the boundary lines of ownership that break the land into pieces but on the paths that function as a kind of circulatory system connecting the whole organism.’^*
Erwin McManus tells of when he was asked to preach to a small church in Cuba, at the end of which, the church pastor said:
“What you just did was completely illegal.”⁺
From different worlds and perspectives, Solnit and McManus are providing a picture for what we’re doing when we encourage people to enter into their creativity – to be illegally human.
(*From Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.)
(**From Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.)
(^Vincent van Gogh, quoted in Elle Luna’s The Crossroads of Should and Must.)
(^^From Elle Luna’s The Crossroads of Should and Must.)
(*^Joseph Campbell, from Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(^*From rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(⁺From Erwin McManus’ The Last Arrow.)