Is Civilization Burning Us Out?

How an inner-city conversation changed my life.

Wisdom can be concealed in the most unlikely of disguises.

It revealed itself to me a few years ago while I was enjoying a conversation with one of Sydney’s many homeless; a middle aged, indigenous lady with remarkable green eyes. As we sat on the footpath together, our conversation meandered on to the subject of children, and she immediately became animated. “I don’t understand why children have to go to school every day”, she said. “Y’know, sometimes they just want to stay at home and have time with their parents. Sometimes they just want to loved, and held, and listened to.”

For a brief nano-second, as she said these words, I felt the socially-acceptable response welling inside me. I felt the ingrained indignation of a well-trained Westerner flare up and my first reaction was to defend the absolute necessity of sending our children to school, every day, from the tender age of five or six.

But, within a heartbeat, I had realized the beauty of what she had said … and the absolute folly of much of what we call “civilized” behavior. I began to grasp our unquestioning adherence to rules and routines that are often based on nothing more than keeping people in line, fulfilling some undisclosed destiny, or simply doing what has always been done.

Image: Sarah Forrester

The problem is not that we continue to send our children to school; it is that most of us do it unconsciously, unquestionably and with no thought for whether it is what the child needs or wants in that moment. I, like many parents, have occasionally dragged my child, kicking and screaming to the classroom, simply because it has been deemed appropriate — necessary — that I do so.

Yes, I have consciously and willingly ignored the very vocal protests of a young child, in order to fulfill a social obligation. After all, it is education, not self-worth, that is the cornerstone of civilization. It is conformity, not self-expression, that builds empires.

Or so we are lead to believe.

Sadly, this perfunctory dismissal of our personal needs does not end at modern schooling. In fact, in many facets of society social dogma and tradition have over-shadowed our individual emotional and spiritual requirements. How many people are in lack-luster careers because of the ingrained desire for recognition, or the empty promise of social standing? How many spouses are in unhealthy or unfulfilling marriages because of the insipid expectation of how life should be?

How many times have indigenous peoples around the globe been vilified and ridiculed because they insist on putting individual freedoms and desires before the acceptable doctrines of “civilized” society?

“A modern civilization is only possible when it is accepted that singular beings exist and express themselves freely.” Tahar Ben Jelloun

Of course, in order to live in some form of harmony, modern society has had to include a basic set of rules and regulations … and anarchy is not my style! But, the natural order of the Universe is one of balance, and the fact is that there is no balance in the robotic way that most of us accept the status quo, toe the line and live out our lives.

The truth is that there is more to life than the empty rules and rituals of our civilized world. There is personal freedom. There is individual desire. There is an inherent and unadulterated need in us to be loved, noticed, held and accepted. There is a deep calling within each of us to express ourselves as individuals and divine spiritual beings, and I believe that it is our insistence on ignoring these needs that creates the greed, depression, anger and violence that plagues our modern lives.
 
Living in a civilised world should not ever mean that we forgo our deepest, profoundest needs. Even in our comfortable lives we must never forget that, within us, there is a desire to be free. Within us there is need to express that divine part of ourselves that is our unique gift to the world.

We must strive to remember that, beyond the constraints of civilized behavior, there is wisdom within us just waiting to be recognized. Like the wisdom shown to me in the beautiful, green eyes of an indigenous lady on an inner-city footpath.

Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents. Without a prison, there can be no delinquents.
We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth. We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society.

John (Fire) Lame Deer, Sioux Lakota — 1903–1976


Originally published at kimforresterwellness.blogspot.com.