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Our Common Humanity

Scientists have sought to understand how the universe was created, how the earth came into being, how humanity evolved, and why animals and human beings behave the way they do. There are various explanations and answers. Most astronomers would agree that the universe was created with a Big Bang. If there is a better explanation, we may assume that human beings are not evolved enough in their understanding at this point to believe in another answer. Thus, scientists go on working on better answers, just as industrial engineers go on trying to improve products for the consumer.

At the same, novelists, storytellers, playwrights and poets reflect on the human condition to make sense of everything an individual is taught from his or her cradle to his or her grave. Throughout the history of humanity, countless people have believed and even argued that they were created equal. Yet, there have been separations, discriminations, dissimilarities and inequalities, for the reason that God, Nature or Evolution – depending on what we choose to believe in – did not grant equal abilities, talents and gifts to all human beings.

Some men are richer and more intelligent than the others. Some are born deaf, dumb, and blind. And, some must rely on income support because they just cannot beat poverty on their own. Nowadays, almost all centers of learning – at least in the developed world – express their understanding of globalization. Undoubtedly, this is the new system of international interaction, impacting international economics, the international environment, and global geopolitics through its dynamics. There is remarkable integration of world markets in the system of globalization.

Just the same, Blij argues in his book, The Power of Place: Geography, Destiny, and Globalization’s Rough Landscape that the place where an individual is born continues to shape his or her life regardless of the dynamics of globalization. According to the author, Earth may be a planet of shrinking functional distances, but it remains a world of staggering situational differences. From the uneven distribution of natural resources to the unequal availability of opportunity, place remains a powerful arbitrator.

Many hundreds of millions of farmers in river basins of Asia and Africa live their lives much as their distant ancestors did, still remote from the forces of globalization, children as well as adults still at high personal risk and great material disadvantage. Tens of millions of habitants of isolated mountain valleys from the Andes to the Balkans and from the Caucasus to Kashmir are as bound to their isolated abodes as their forebears were. Of the seven billion current passengers on Cruiseship Earth, the overwhelming majority (the myth of mass migration notwithstanding) will die very near the cabin in which they were born.

(Blij 3) Blij’s scholarly study on the human condition in the era of globalization restates the fact that it is not possible for an Iranian to become German, just as it is not possible for a girl to become a boy or a low income married couple to give birth to a rich child. There is immense diversity on planet earth. Novelists, story tellers, poets, and playwrights may choose to reflect on any aspect of destiny, such as gender, race or socioeconomic class to create a work of art with words. They also have the choice to make gods, animals, or inanimate objects of their subjects.

Because novelists, storytellers, poets and playwrights are human beings, however, they tend to reflect on humanity alone in their works, regardless of their subjects. According to Jones and Seacole, humans seem to prefer to shape information in the form of a story (1). Referred to as narrative knowing, listening to stories to gather facts is a rather powerful method of gaining knowledge as storytelling allows narrators and their listeners to connect on the basis of “shared ‘same-ness” (Jones and Seacole 1). Thus, narrative knowing and storytelling allow information to be rendered meaningful (Polkinghorne 1).

Polkinghorne writes: “Experience is meaningful and human behavior is generated from and informed by this meaningfulness” (1). If, on the other hand, human beings are presented with theories and facts alone without real-life examples to explain them, it is but natural for them to weave stories about logical arguments presented unto them in order to apply the theories and facts to human experience. If they fail to weave stories around theories and facts, however, they would be expected to understand the presented facts through memorization alone.

An argument may simply convince an individual of its truth. A story, on the contrary, would convince the listener of its relevance to human existence and, therefore, believability. To explain how arguments are built, let us consider how scientific research is conducted in the social sciences. Whereas an argument may simply take the researcher through previously conducted research on his or her subject of study, it takes a story to build a hypothesis. Thus, there is no way to undermine the importance of narrative knowing.

Even children build their knowledge base on stories alone. School teachers cannot explain how and why 2 plus 2 makes 4 without talking of John giving 2 apples to Mary before Sandra gave her two more. Novelists, storytellers, poets and playwrights may reflect on any aspect of human existence, be it imaginary or based in scientific facts. But, their imagination is restricted in the sense that it is only human. Furthermore, comparisons of different cultures tend to reveal sameness in various aspects. A god or goddess in an ancient Greek play appears as human to the modern reader.

Let us consider gender discrimination faced by women in distinct cultures as portrayed in novels to further understand this fact. Hamida, in Naguib Mahfouz’s Midaq Alley, is a Middle Eastern woman who must put up acts to stay true to her traditions, at the same time as she yearns for something beyond the ordinary. Yet, her passage into a world where men and women must be considered equal is a narrow one. As a matter of fact, her life is the Midaq Alley, which “resembles a ‘trap,’ with walls on three sides, making darkness one of its pervasive features” (Deeb 121).

What is more, there is a very narrow entrance and an equally narrow exit to the small alley – away from the big, outside world – that the Middle Eastern woman has come to represent in Mahfouz’s novel (Deeb 121). Deeb describes her interpretation of the novel thus: “We discern in this novel the division between the traditional world and the modern world in Egypt during the 1940, that is, to some extent, a re-enactment of the East-West dichotomy and the values, whether aesthetic or moral, which accompany those worlds” (Deeb 121).

But, this statement cannot possibly apply to all values of the East and the West. Even Western literature speaks of gender discrimination. Hamida is not alone in her corner of the world. Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse testifies to the fact that gender roles are created in the mind before they are manifested in human lives. Tansley’s words, “women can’t paint” echo in Lily’s mind (Viola 275). The man has tried to change the woman’s mind. Lily wants to paint, but Tansley wished her failure when he told her that women cannot become successful artists.

But, why did Tansley wish her failure, and what was the basis of his assumption? After all, there was no reason for him to say that women cannot become good artists. Moreover, femininity or properties characteristic of the female sex are typically understood to be the following: beauty, grace, talkativeness, mercy, forgiveness, patience, faithfulness and care for the family. Although these defining qualities of the female sex may also define the male sex, it is the female that is typically expected to be more beautiful, graceful, talkative, merciful, forgiving, patient, faithful, and caring than the male.

Likewise, women may have strong, athletic bodies or great intelligence typically expected of males. Even so, the woman is usually defined with the above mentioned characteristics, that is, beauty, grace, etc. in books, films, and advertisements, whereas strong, athletic bodies and great intelligence are typically seen as male characteristics. Because painting requires a sense of beauty, Tansley should have known that Lily could make a great artist. Woolf understands that there is no basis for gender stereotyping that the likes of Tansley indulge in.

Handley explains that Woolf, on the other hand, is in the position to mock the male mindset, and for a good reason: In Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse James Ramsay tries to illustrate his father’s philosophical concerns about “subject, object, and the nature of reality” for the artist Lily Briscoe: “‘Think of a kitchen table then,’ he told her, ‘when you’re not there'” (23). Lily imagines that “thinking, night after night . . . about the reality of kitchen tables” makes Mr. Ramsay’s face what it is (154). It would seem that Woolf, like Plato’s maid in Heidegger’s transcription, is laughing in To the Lighthouse at Mr.

Ramsay as a philosopher who cannot see the objects in front of him, paradoxically including his wife, who, although she is a being and not a thing, is often perceived more in her “objective” beauty than as a subject. To Mrs. Ramsay her husband sometimes seemed as if he were “born blind, deaf, and dumb, to the ordinary things, but to the extraordinary things, with an eye like an eagle’s …. But did he notice the flowers? No …. Did he even notice… whether there was pudding on his plate or roast beef?. He would sit at a table with them like a person in a dream” (70).

(Handley) To put it another way, men may or may not have genuine reasons – other than sexism – to indulge in gender stereotyping toward the opposite sex; but women may explain this abnormal habit of males rather reasonably. If women do not assume a reasonable stance toward judgmental males such as Mr. Ramsay and Tansley, the latter would brainwash them enough to become submissive and obedient to males, or do exactly as the men want. As Handley explains, Lily is breaking the tradition of unquestioningly submitting to men by questioning the unreasonableness displayed by males.

Various religions and philosophies teach that males and females are exactly equal; however, their physical differences in addition to societal teachings demand of them to perform different roles. As an important example, around the world women are recognized as homemakers. On the other hand, husbands or males are typically considered the breadwinners for the family. But, scholars have stated that in the African American culture, the woman is expected to perform duties that are traditionally assigned the male, apart from her duties of the conventional woman.

This example of black women clearly shows that gender roles are learned rather than fixed in nature. According to Moses, African American women are prepared to adopt “non-traditional gender roles more often than white women” because they have been socialized to stay flexible and aim for high achievement” (8). Hence, there are both differences and similarities among cultures of the world. When cultures or values clash, there may be criminal acts, wars, and other social issues to cause suffering. Everybody does not turn violent, but many people do indulge in crimes.

In his scholarly paper, “So it goes,” Velleman expresses his understanding of Buddhist philosophy: that human suffering results from the false belief that our selves endure in what seems to be virtually endless time, which is why people are anxious about their past and future. Human beings tend to look back on their lives with regret and nostalgia. They also feel anxious about future as they try to make strategic plans to fulfill their goals based on their own expectations as well as those of others.

Like Einstein or quantum physicists with little belief in the ordinary human sense of time – they believe in relativity of time that Velleman explains in philosophical terms – the philosopher, Velleman seeks to understand how time is related to the concept of “enduring self” (Velleman 1). After all, Buddhists assert that individual belief in self that endures is an illusion. Buddhism encourages its followers to meditate as practice for living in the present or in the moment. One of the commonly explained methods of Buddhist meditation is to concentrate on a single word, object or thought and ignore all others.

Buddhist masters also teach their followers to fully enjoy their daily chores so as to live in the moment. Velleman explains that this state of mind is also available to us when we concentrate on a task that almost completely engages our intellect (14-15). Velleman writes about emotional suffering. Physical suffering is another aspect of reality. An infant understands neither. Whatever an individual learns through life – regardless of whether it is through word of mouth, books of science or novels and poetry – reminds him or her that there are many others in the world sharing his or her beliefs and living through similar situations.

Only God is alone. Humans, on the contrary, have equals. Moreover, humans cannot get through their lives on their own, which is why they require novelists, storytellers, poets and playwrights to go on reminding them of others that share their suffering, in addition to a sense of hope that help is on the way. To illustrate this with examples, consider that colds, fever, and the mental illness we refer to as depression are experienced around the world, even if there are different methods of offering solace to the sufferers. Works Cited Blij, H. D. The Power of Place: Geography, Destiny, and Globalization’s Rough Landscape.

New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009. Deeb, Marius. “Najib Mahfuz’s Midaq Alley: A Socio-Cultural Analysis. ” Bulletin (British Society for Middle Eastern Studies) 10. 2 (1983): 121-130. Handley, W. R. “The housemaid and the kitchen table: Incorporating the frame in To the Lighthouse. ” Twentieth Century Literature 40. 1 (Spring 1994): 15-42. Jones, K. , and M. Seacole. “The Turn to a Narrative Knowing of Persons: One Method Explored. ” Nursing Times Research. 2002. 10 Dec 2009. <http://www. angelfire. com/zine/kipworld/The_turn. pdf>. Moses, Y. T. “Socialization and Non-Traditional Gender Roles: The Black Woman.

” Paper presented at the meetings of the American Anthropological Association (Washington, DC, 1982). 10 Dec 2009. <http://eric. ed. gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/2e/97/76. pdf>. Polkinghorne, D. Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1988. Velleman, J. David. “So it Goes. ” The Amherst Lecture in Philosophy, Lecture 1. 2006. 10 Dec 2009. <http://records. viu. ca/www/ipp/pdf/velleman2006_alp. pdf>. Viola, A. “Fluidity versus Muscularity: Lily’s Dilemma in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. ” Journal of Modern Literature XXIV. 2 (Winter 2000-2001): 271-289.

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