Christian Long

Chris Abani: Muses on Humanity

In TED Talks on April 29, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Reflection by GABRIELLA B.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Chris Abani:  Muses on Humanity

When I first listened to this talk I didn’t know what to say.

What do you say about a story that makes you laugh, tear up, feel guilt, amusement, amazement and then walk away thinking? Well, when you read a title like “Muses on Humanity,” are you imagining some high sounding philosophical dissertation on the meaning and depth of the human psyche?

You shouldn’t be.

Abani brings forth an absolutely moving talk about connections. He poetically combines separate, seemingly unconnected stories of life, death, and the little bits of experience that take up the time between the two creating a stunning canvas that lets us see humanity through his experience. Because humanity isn’t only what we can find in ourselves but what others can show us about ourselves. ‘Ubuntu’ or a saying meaning the only way for me to be human is if you reflect my humanity back at me.

Think about that for a moment, people today live very isolated lives. You get up you go to work, you think murderously about your fellow commuters, and then you sit down for your 9-5 desk job in a tiny cubical. Of course, you interact with others, make the socially correct responses to your boss and coworkers, but never in any meaningful manner.

Then you trudge home, nuke yourself a microwave dinner and settle in for the game (or your show) and go to bed only to repeat it all over again.

In today’s society we have lost the closeness of familial bonds, perhaps you have your husband or wife, and then of course children but in 18 years they’ve moved out and you’re on your own, the family is disjointed, spread throughout the country as work and school and love pulls each person into their own separate lives.

How can we know we’re human?

Have you ever once stopped throughout the day to think about it?

If humanity, is the goodness in people, the strength that lets us stand up again and again when we inevitably get knocked down, the kindness, the courage, the joy, the stuff of live that makes our rather monotonous existences worth it, then how can we express that humanity alone.

You cannot feel love alone, you cannot truly engage in a meaningful life alone. We need others to give us the opportunity to show compassion, to show kindness. Or even, to show the tenacity and fortitude you only discover you have, when you’ve been pushed into the dirt and realize,

It’s much harder to stand up from a fall than to have never fallen at all.

Abani shows us a snapshot of life at its worst, best and most mundane yet also at its most beautiful. He lends us a peak into the community we have lost. The ambiguities of humanity that we have long since forfeited to foreign gods and desires, lost to the expectations of modern society and pressures.

How can the average person of today possibly hope understand the strength of character and virtue our cultures once cultivated? Now we are ladder climbers and back stabbers, power hungry or weak. You don’t see examples of Great Courage or Great Sacrifice in the modern cites of today, but in the remnants of the societies that industrialization is stamping out the world over.


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