How I Learned to Embrace the Entire World
What does it take to be fully human?
When I was in my 30s, I gradually became aware of a formless unease, a quiet lack that I couldn’t put my finger on.
I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was there.
I already knew that I was already a good person. I went to church in search of a moral framework to guide my days. I donated money to charities that alleviated the suffering of people halfway around the world. People told me I was a good listener.
I slowly realized that I wanted to embrace humanity as much as I could. I wanted to draw a circle around me that would include as many people as possible.
But people kill. They steal. They ruin other people’s lives. Everywhere, the strong prey on the weak.
And closer to home, people around me did things that made me feel discouraged and hurt, feelings I couldn’t get rid of for days or weeks or even longer.
I could not relate to such bad people. And as long as I could only relate to people who were good, I could not bring countless millions of people inside my circle. I was stuck.
How I bring more people into my circle
It turns out that you can bring people you don’t approve of into your circle. You have this skill. You been using it all my life.
The boss who bypasses you and promotes someone less capable.
Your friend’s partner, who dismisses your opinions and cuts you off before you finish speaking.
The stranger who cuts in front of you in line and then yells at you for no good reason.
I don’t like such people — I may or may not have to encounter them again — but I’ve found a way to bring them into my circle. I’ve learned to accommodate who they are. I can accept their presence in the world.
I learned to do this the day I found a quotation by the Roman poet and playwright Publius Terentius:
Nothing human is entirely foreign to me
What does this sentence mean?
It means that I am capable of doing anything another human being has ever done. It doesn’t mean that I myself would kill or steal or ruin somebody’s life. But because I am an imperfect human being, I am capable of that other person’s behavior.
Here’s one way to look at it: I was born in a certain place and culture, had certain parents, and lived through a certain set of experiences. If I had been born where that other person was and lived in that exact same way, there’s a good chance that I would behave like they did. This explains why nothing human is entirely foreign to me.
And once I realize this, I have a way to accommodate the presence of this person in the world. If only in the smallest of ways, I can relate to them. The result is that I can bring them into my circle — and I have become more fully human.
Realizing these things has profound benefits
You can do this too.
You can be less judgmental, which means you will experience a lot less anger.
You can feel at least a little more empathy, which opens you to connect meaningfully to other people and feel less alone.
You can have forgive someone more easily, and you will feel less burdened; you can avoid cutting yourself off from another human being, which is a good thing.
Another person, through culture or circumstances, can still be very foreign to you but not entirely so. You are a human being, and everyone is your fellow traveler. Like every other human who has ever existed, you were born and you will die. You want to be happy, and you want to avoid suffering.
You are alive. You are a part of the Great Human Pageant, and your circle can be large. Choose to believe this and you will have a fuller life.