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Hidden Humanity

Text by: Kari Cadenhead

Growing up I had a pretty broad view of the planet. My family has Navy and Air Force roots going back about as far as you can see, and while I hardly ever left the East Coast as a child, my sister and I were told story after story by well-traveled grandparents, aunts and uncles, and our own parents. We learned about sticking together as new mothers in post-war Italy, bicycle rides through French provinces, measures taken to learn local customs, long boat trips to start new lives, and just how small this world really is with countless accounts of family running into old friends as many as fifty years later. Generosity was a constant undercurrent of these stories — instances of my family being shown kindness were lovingly told and retold. Some of us may never have the opportunity to travel and experience the kindness of different individuals first hand. All we know are our local communities. The vastness of the planet can make us feel small and insignificant, but my sister and I were filled with awe by the idea that there was a whole, different world outside of our little southern town, and somehow it always seemed so close and welcoming.

While all of these stories were being recounted, my small childhood horizons were slowly expanding. When I started my own family and began traveling, I realized that I was given a priceless gift — the knowledge that each person is just one very small part of the human race, each of our lives are only a tiny fraction of the human experience, and somewhere, somehow, we are all interconnected. It eliminated indifference and has given me the ability to connect with anyone, anywhere; the ability to think, "How are we the same?" before asking, "How are we different?" It allows for compassion before judgment, and above all, it has led to the one ideal I hope to pass onto my young son as he grows; all the people around the world are our family, as much as he is my son and I am his mother, and we must treat them as such.

May all beings be happy and secure, may their hearts be wholesome! Whatever living beings there be; feeble or strong, stout or medium, short or tall, without exception; seen or unseen, those dwelling far or near, those who are born and those who are yet to be born, may all beings be happy! Let none deceive another, not despise any person whatsoever in any place. Let him not wish any harm on another out of anger or ill will. Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so let him cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings.
-From the Metta Sutta, Sutta Nipata 1.8 (1.)
© Jessica Ceason Photography

Humanity is often taken for granted in this day and age, and we are all at fault. Most of us don't realize that something as simple as the shoes we buy can be impacting a family just like ours thousands of miles away. We eat what 'they' grow, we wear what 'they' make, yet we never stop to think of who 'they' are. They are not just factory or farm workers. They are mothers, daughters, fathers and sons. They are also lovers and dreamers. They are you, and they are me. They are our children. It is so very important that we don't forget that 'they' are all human.

The easiest way to describe the harm we indirectly cause is through a basic example. Thanks to international commerce we are able to make any choice, buy any object. We can fill our kids' rooms with the latest and greatest toys, but it would be much more beneficial to think about that toy for five minutes before throwing it in our cart. Where did it come from? Who made it? Who was impacted by its production? And most importantly, who is benefitting from the $29.99 price tag? Chances are the person who made that toy received only pennies for it, was affected by the toxic chemicals used to make it, and is lacking the resources (i.e. trees, water) used in production. We wouldn't personally walk into a community and take people's jobs, cut down their trees, and pour chemicals into their water, so why do it indirectly?

Why do we need that toy again? That electronic device? That pair of shoes? We don't. We need to put people before material possessions and set an example for our children to follow. The way we live as consumers is the norm in our society, but it's damaging to so many millions of people around the world. Simply thinking about what we buy is a great place to start on a global level. In an ironic way, it's actually easier because of international commerce, as there are increasingly more alternative options. It's also easy to go home and research the companies that make the object in question. If you want to go even further, sit down with your kids and write e-mails to the companies, ask them why they have not taken steps to make their production, on a basic level, more humane. Then, research a more globally friendly alternative. This is not always easy, but it becomes so with practice. Believe it or not, it becomes rewarding. Knowing that what you bought was made, or grown, by a mom or dad who was paid a living wage and no one's water was poisoned in the process is a great feeling. I guarantee you, the work is worth it.

Out of my experience, I tell my friends, wherever I go, about the importance of love and compassion. Though the words are not elegant, they are meaningful and valuable. Further, it is easy to talk about love, compassion and kindness, but the mere words are not effective. If you develop these attitudes and experience them, you will know their real value; so, it is worthwhile to try to develop them.
-The Dalai Lama (2.)

Each life is as important as our own, and we all affect each other, although as we go about our days rushing around and worrying about the next thing, it's almost impossible to remember that our actions can impact another individual half a world away. Mindful living is the first step to loving our fellow human beings, and we should, without a doubt, love those we coexist with. You may think we can't do much to initiate change, but our job is to plant the seeds, to teach our children how to be proactive and responsible with their choices. While most of us can't go to a foreign country and lend support directly to our world neighbors, we can stop causing harm first and explain to our children why we make these choices. With this example in their pockets, twenty years from now our kids will be the ones who take that one step further and offer or support fair working options for the global community, and by default, create a better human experience for everyone involved. Most importantly they will learn that, whether visible or not, each life matters and should be appreciated.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

We sometimes have very little to give and even less time. Humanitarianism generally revolves around generosity —we simply need to realize that we can look past material generosity and give freely of our kindness, our thoughts, and our love, either directly or indirectly. We can be generous by leading a kindhearted and willing generation of children into the future with the knowledge that there is a whole world of unseen people out there who need their love and support.