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Essays  


The Tortoise

There are many organisations in the world devoted to exposing abuses of power. Graphic accounts of manís inhumanity to man provide a focus and an incentive, but responding to outbreaks of injustice will never rid us of the plague.  Most free-thinking individuals believe in the inalienable personal rights of each and every human being, but feel helpless to stem the tide of violence.  Effective change can only come from greater understanding of the causes.
 
Imagine, if you will, a tortoise on its back, legs kicking helplessly.  Imagine other tortoises walking by.  Would any help?  Imagine other creatures walking by: monkeys, cats, pigs; how many would walk by before one tried to help?  Now imagine people you know walking by.  The most brutal of men would be capable of turning the tortoise the right way up. 

Human Spirituality

Humans have the intellectual capacity to recognise other sentient beings, realise when a creature is in distress, and know how to alleviate the suffering.  And with or without a highly refined intellect we also have an innate urge to help.  Perhaps that, more than any other factor, is what makes us special in the animal kingdom.  We have within us an essence of spirituality, unconditional love, compassion, (different cultures have their own descriptions) that reaches out to others.

If this is so, if most human beings would stop to help the tortoise, why is there so much injustice?  Why do we treat our fellow men with less humanity than the upturned tortoise?   The simple answer is that we respond to the tortoise on a compassionate level unencumbered by personal baggage.  We do not regard the tortoise with suspicion or hostility, his grandfathers did not mistreat us, and we do not have to sacrifice time and effort.  But the other man, the other race, the other culture, the other religion, the other nation . . . in our insecurity we view them all as potential threats.  If we help them then one day they may be in a position to treat us with injustice, so it is better by far to get our retaliation in first.

Traditional Enemies

There have always been those who sought to rid the world of injustice.  But to effect change one must first have understanding. Over the centuries, and around the world, various enemies have been identified:  empire building, colonialism, religion, communism, capitalism, fascism, dictatorships, globalisation, profiteering.  But as one system is toppled it is replaced by another that also practices, or encourages, or permits the abuse of power.  For all that we create systems to serve mankind, we are unable to imbue them with the essence of humanity and we end up serving the systems we create.

We might expect religion to set an example, for all religions have one common theme: the recognition of some spiritual spark in each and every human being.  But even here there are many divisions, with injustice meted out to outsiders.  Unfortunately, religious leaders dwell on dogma that emphasises differences rather than teach this simple common theme.  And if religions do not actively promote the fellowship of mankind there is no lead for governments and commercial enterprises to follow.

Spiritual Evolution

If power is abused in every system we have to look elsewhere for understanding.  We have to look at the individuals who run the systems.  And to understand the human condition we have to draw on religion, science, psychology and common sense.  Science describes an upward physical evolution on earth, and many creation myths link this with a downward spiritual evolution into matter.  This spiritual evolution is still working itself out.  Spirit is capable of reaching beyond the physical but in most of us is constrained by time and matter.  Spirit is trapped not just inside our physical bodies, but also by the treacle-like substance of animal emotions such as fear and greed. 

In our daily lives we have to balance animal instincts that help us to survive with our spiritual evolution.  Those who cannot do this are like the tortoise.  Just as the tortoise became physically helpless, unbalanced by the huge shell on his back, man can be rendered spiritually helpless by the emotional baggage on his back.  This man is dominated by fear and greed:  fear of losing what he has; greed for more and more power to protect him from loss.  He is unlikely to know true happiness or peace of mind.
 
Universal Connections

With understanding we become more enlightened, capable of demonstrating generosity and breadth of vision. We see beyond minor physical and cultural differences to universal connections: our common desire for food and safety; our simple enjoyment of companionship; our need to laugh and play; but most importantly, the spiritual bond that ties us all. 

In the most famous of fictional races the tortoise beat the much faster hare.  He did it by staying balanced and moving forward.  In a far more important one (The Human Race) that is all we have to do: ensure our emotional baggage does not leave us stranded, spiritually helpless, and move forward to embrace the qualities that define the human condition.  And as more and more human beings leave their animal heritage behind we will at last see more harmony in the world.

© Harvey Tordoff
May 2001