Religion, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life

Strive for Beauty and Humanity

What if I don’t make it?

I asked this 14 minutes into my Adventure. And 2 hours in. Again that night and first thing in the morning. What if I fail?

Writing this I sit in a sunlit library in historic Natchez, Mississippi.

Talvin Singh floats in my ears (soundtrack!). My bicycle stands ready to eat up the road. My host, a seventy year old antique dealer, promises a send-off breakfast.

And gods willing, in a few days I’ll bike into bustling New Orleans. I’ll unite with missing friends and lwas and put down roots for the winter.

Save Point

I have a hard time believing I came this far. But I always believed. I get a break now, a time to rest and write my words, but I will go on, ever on, till I meet the gods. Till I find my fate and affix my mark to the world.

Before I return to that maelstrom, that uncertainty of the road, I must record what I’ve seen. If my journey leads me to peril, at least this much is preserved. So here is what I found:

Humanity is essentially Good.

To be human is to desire friends, love, kin. You cannot get that unless you offer it. So our most private desire demands that we act morally.

This is probabilistic. Like Wikipedia, it’s correct overall but not in every case. You can find an article full of bullshit; you can find a human being with criminal intent. But if you gamble on it, taken on the whole, you’ll come out ahead: the information is right, and the people you meet are Good.

A stranger is someone just like you, who wants to be liked and cares about your wellbeing.

This crosses all lines. Race, political faction, age will change what a person sees when you meet. But it does not change that core desire, or the behavior it demands. It does not undermine the beauty of the human heart.

It’s how our ancestors survived. Alone, separated from the tribe, if you saw a fire and smelt cooked meat, you hoped and prayed these strange people would share; and if you sat by your fire and roasted your meat, you would feel sad and alone to hoard it.

Abandon any scripture, any faith that starts with sin.

We are not born with sin; we do not harbor sin deep within our being. We are seeds that love the sun, growing ever upward toward it. We can be bent and twisted by an unfair wind, but most will reach forever toward that light.

I have crossed 1,600 miles by myself: a short distance. I have knocked on doors, visited churches, leaned against trees and slept in the rain. I have been hungry, tired, injured, and fevered. I have gone places where I felt alone, and strange. The only pale-skinned person in a camp of dark-skinned people; the northern voice in a drawling Southern town.

And the only priest of the old gods.

These are not accomplishments. They’re challenges. One does not seek these situations, one only accepts them as necessary hurdles along a greater Journey.

But during those moments, those unwanted moments of fear, I have been taught every time and without fail: people are Good.

Do you disagree? Then travel further than me. Go to stranger places. Be more alone, be more different, be needier than I was. Place yourself in that position of ultimate vulnerability, alone and helpless among strangers, and find out for yourself. If humanity lets you down, I consider your point proven. But every day I have tested it, and never found my fellows lacking.

In his garden, the antique dealer stenciled words from Isaac Stern:

“Strive for Beauty and Humanity.”

Like a ship seeking safe landing, it is a search you can never give up. You have no choice, you must push on. Turn from the cold winds of cynicism and cast your eyes upon the distant shore.

Strive always for Beauty and Humanity.

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23 thoughts on “Strive for Beauty and Humanity

  1. For some reason this morning, this brought a tear to my eye. Maybe because you’re proving something I’ve always believed; people ARE essentially GOOD, we ARE seeds that reach towards the light, and we each want the other to be happy together. I think the Gods are right beside you, Drew, and I hope they continue to bless every step you take and peddle.

  2. At one point, I thought humanity was rotten to the core, then I started believing that humanity was basically good. What I’ve learned is that it is both. Humanity can suprise you with its greatness, or astonish you with its cruelty. I’m glad that people are treating you well on your journey.

    • It is definitely both. I fully agree. That said, saying simply that it’s both gives the (I believe misleading) impression that it’s 50/50 or one is just as likely as the other. That runs contrary to my experience and contrary to how we are evolved to act. Hopefully my tree analogy gets in the right ballpark – some trees do grow crooked; there is definitely a mix of both healthy and malfigured trees. But barring unusual environmental factors, trees tend to grow straight and humans tend to be basically good.

  3. Drew,

    I agree with you on some parts but on others I do not and it just seems to me like your own dogma surfacing.

    I do not mean to argue or insult you but I’m sure counter points of view are to be expected if you put your thoughts out there. People seem to never agree on anything anyway. :)

    With that said I shall illuminate my critique of your post.

    My main contention would be that I do not see any subsequent proof in your statement “Abandon any scripture, any faith that starts with sin.” which would tell me why that statement is true. You, however, seem to possess special knowledge on the state we are born in, in the same manner other religions claim to know. This is then a theological statement. You are merely making a statement as fact without proof, hence the “dogma” bit up there. Again, I do not wish to argue on these points but I’m merely pointing out a hole in your thoughts on which I would dearly like to know more about.

    Please let me know if I am wrong in my assessment of your beliefs/ideas and if my criticism came out too strong or just plain wrong. I’ll read it again in a bit anyway. Maybe I missed something. We sometime read our own beliefs/ideals into things. :)

    Your friend and fellow adventurer.

    Starr aka Starrzan

    • Starrzan, not too strong at all. I love this kind of discussion.

      The point I make in this post starts with my own experience. I have been astonished by how basically decent and good total strangers are to someone in a vulnerable position. In talking with others who have done long distance treks like this, they have told me they felt the same thing.

      But you’re right, I’m making a statement that goes beyond just my own experience. The reasoning I offer for that is not just theological. It is not based on revelation, scripture or faith. My argument is that humans are evolved to be social creatures. We all crave fellowship. The only way to get those things (for long) is to make an effort to be social in turn.

      In other words our most basic evolved behavior gives us an incentive to act morally most of the time.

      I think that’s pretty clear reasoning. Any doctrine that says mankind is inherently sinful runs contrary to what we know about our evolution.

      I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

      • Drew,

        Thanks for your response mate. Unfortunately I do not have too much time now to delve into this further as am starting my trek on Saturday and I still have a few things to finalise, including finishing off two projects at work before Friday! :)

        All I will say is thank God that the revelation in the Old Testament of the Bible starts with everything being good, very good. ;) Our penchant for “sin”, which is perhaps something we first need to define here, comes in with our ability to choose. We can go both ways, to do / be good or to do / be bad, therein lies our power, therein lie our purpose. ;)

        Starr

        • Starrzan, I can appreciate that. As you know I’m not Christian, and while I have deep disagreements with parts of Christian theology, I still respect the strength and beauty of Christian spirituality.

          One of the reasons I’m not Christian is because I see no need for humanity to be saved or redeemed, and thus no need for a Christ. I agree we have a choice, and that makes me think we can save ourselves, and one another, striving together for excellence without the intervention of the gods.

          I’m curious — do you then disagree with the idea of original sin?

          Good luck on your trek my friend. May your god and all the gods be with you.

  4. nickiofcourse says:

    But how in the world will churches keep their people “faithful” to church if people stop thinking they are born bad and need saving by some outside source?!? (I know, that would be highly disputed by faith loving people and was quite inappropriate of me to even say out loud) (Father forgive me for I have sinned.Again.) (What the hell is in my coffee this morning!)

    Anyway, I believe people are mostly good. Of course, it all depends on their model of the world, doesn’t it?

    My friend’s family was murdered and she found them. Her model of the world, as well as the model of the world from the pov of the killer…probably not so good. Her model of the world is much better now. We see what we look at.

    There are a million (at least) examples of humanity being beautiful and good. And probably the same amount of examples to the contrary.

    The challenge may be to keep your ideas in tact and see the people who may show up in your path who definitely do NOT have your best interests in mind in a different light. That their actions aren’t about YOU at all, but about them, and that they hurt in a very particular way that blinds them to any good in the world at all. It takes much evolution to not be a victim when these things arise.

    But so far, I am completely happy and relieved to know that you have stumbled upon love, over and over.
    I’m going to take my insanity and go to work now.
    Have the best time ever!
    Nicki

    • Lots of religions maintain the faithful without hitting the guilt/shame buttons.

      …see the people who may show up in your path who definitely do NOT have your best interests in mind in a different light. That their actions aren’t about YOU at all, but about them

      This is very important Nicki. Well said. Thank you.

  5. Arden says:

    Hmmm.

    Well, my first response is “psychopathic children.”

    I’m friends with a girl who was trafficked. There was something she said that struck me– the source, she said, of most of her pain and trauma, all things told: many, many people raped her, and many of them are not people she would’ve guessed to be capable of it. People with wedding rings– pictures of children and wives in their wallets– otherwise amiable-seeming people. People you’d see on the street. People with their own history of trauma or abuse, as well as people entirely without it.

    And the side of people that raped her may be a side that never surfaced at any other point, but it’s also a side that contributed to what is essentially the wholesale destruction of her life.

    My experience with human beings is very similar to what you’ve described, and I find it immensely heartening that you’ve been greeted with such hospitality on the road. I am also very much against the premise of sin. But I think that the idea of sin developed for a reason– a compelling reason– and that we do humanity no favors to pretend that a good outcome is inevitable for any of us. That we don’t have vast capacities, individualized ones, but ones that could take us down any number of different paths. Or that, conversely, there aren’t child psychopaths.

    • Thank you for this Arden. I appreciate your point, but I hope you see that it’s very much consistent with what I said in the first place. I acknowledged that there will be counter-examples – that this is not an absolute, but a trend. And you have given us such a counter-example, one that is accounted for in the trend, in stark detail. I’m very sorry for your friend and all she suffered.

      That said, I do agree that:

      But I think that the idea of sin developed for a reason– a compelling reason– and that we do humanity no favors to pretend that a good outcome is inevitable for any of us.

      A good outcome is definitely not inevitable. What’s most useful, however, is to understand why that concept of sin arose. Perhaps because, myopically, those who have been wronged mistakenly assume that everyone will be; perhaps because playing on our fears is an excellent way to control people.

      But certainly not because sin is inherent to us; if that were the case your friend’s abuse would be the rule, and not the horrifying exception.

      • Arden says:

        Well, hmm, of course you allowed for terrible actions in your entry, but I personally am trying to draw the line at “essentially good.” I don’t think that’s true, and I don’t think it helps us *be* good, in short.

        If you think goodness is more of a trend or capacity, then I am more inclined to say I agree; I was reacting to the word “essential.”

        And I don’t think abuse is so much an exception to be consistent with your point. I’ve never been abused myself, but the numbers among my friends are consistent with certain estimates (one in four). And that’s to say nothing of cultures that have participated in terrific abuse on a massive, systematic scale.

        I’m very much coming at this from an optimistic temperament that *does* tend to think of people as essentially good, so I have a lot of sympathy from what you’re saying. I also think the doctrine of sin generates harmful behavior — and i do think the question of why sin arose is a good one.

        But I think a potential explanation for sin is simply a way of trying to recognize, manage, and control our own wrongful capacities. Whether or not people used it to control others, or used it as a rationalization for paranoia, it is a *compelling* concept for many, and I think that’s because we recognize “evil,” both in the world and in ourselves.

        (I don’t actually like the word evil at all, and I’m not exactly trying to frame this moralistically; but I’m hard pressed to think of an alternative that has the gravity I need.)

        • Yes, I definitely mean it as a trend. Humanity – the species – is “essentially” good; individual people may not behave well at all.

          I agree that the language here makes its hard to talk about. In these discussions I find it help to remember that “moral” is just another word for “social.” Moral behavior is pro-social behavior. “Evil” actions are antisocial actions.

          So put aside essentially good. I think there’s little doubt that humanity is essentially a social species; if so, then it follows that we are inclined to behave in socially viable ways. And that is the core of morality.

  6. Rua Lupa says:

    *Big Love*

    Beautiful post Drew :)
    I’ve had a few experiences where my fellows expressed fear of strangers where I’ve just struck up conversation which led to my companion’s fears lessening once learning that these folks alright. Sometimes being alone and talking away with someone I’ve never met on dark streets and their friends are the ones that shy away (I think because I was ‘too clean’ in terms of not accepting a joint and such and might have been an under cover cop or something. When really I just can’t smoke). I don’t know if it comes from being raised in a small community where strangers do help one another out, but I offer help and have been helped by strangers often enough to know that such fears are usually unfounded. I even had a conversation lately with a friend about the feel of two cities that are four hours apart. One city often had strangers helping each other out, while the other was filled with suspicion at the offer of help (said friend’s example was offering to help an elder with their groceries, since they were obviously heavy, and the elder responded as if they were being mugged). The cities are of similar size yet one felt like a town, and the other a metropolis – does the way they are laid out make a difference? Or was it because one was a little more remote than the other? Both were on the Trans Canada Highway with plenty of traffic so I kind of doubt that. It would be wonderful to know the real reason though.

    Have you found that certain communities have these different feels?

    • I don’t know… I’m sure they do, but I think my view was more limited than that while traveling. Here in New Orleans I’m experiencing a whole different neighborly vibe than I ever experienced up north, that much I can say for sure.

  7. Pingback: An Open Letter to John Halstead «   Rogue Priest

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