I had never before been so aware of the vulnerability of life as I have been for the last months. Maybe it is just part of that cliché feeling of people when they turn 30 (or 32)? Or maybe it is because I now ride my bicycle in a city where some car drivers enjoy playing chicken on a head-on race of a damage bumper vs. a life? Or it is because I have been studying sustainability and realised that our life is being threatened by our own foolishness? Or maybe, as usual, is the combination of all these things that has build up an unusual awareness that, even as unique and magnificent each person’s life is, it is finite.
If it is so, then, why bother? If everything will just come to an end one day, why try to make our life valuable? For some, and maybe especially for us, the Latin-American and Caribbean born, the answer is a celebration. Celebrate the fact that against unbelievable odds a human being is born, and is capable of experiencing the planet. For others, the answer is in religion, family, or spirituality. For me, again, it is a combination of these and other aspects. It is the sense that, whilst recognising that my own existence is a unique, unlikely and maybe even miraculous event, it only makes sense in the recognition that is part of a larger system. It is part of a family, it is part of a community, it is part of a species, it is an instant in time, and it is part of this planet.
We regularly fail to recognise the importance and the strength of humanity acting cohesively. It is usually and unfortunately a territory left only for politicians repeating empty phrases about working together. In the meantime, we get on with our life thinking that we succeed in spite of others and not thanks to others. We forget how fragile we are as individuals; that we would hardly survive a day without others. Our security, our food, our shelter, our education, and all the wonders of technology are possible because others are working for them. We would not have a computer, or electricity at home, or even a home without the work of other people. All of our knowledge is fractured so we can specialise and produce better things. There is no one person in the planet that can build a pencil from beginning to end. We rely not only on other people that are doing things now, but also on the ones that came before us.
This vindication of the power of many coming together does not pretend to condemn or underestimate the value of individuals and their own selfishness. Aspects such as self-interest, our will to survive, or our self-centred ambitions are undoubtedly some of the greatest forces that make us a strong species. Only out of individual actions and ideas that integrate in unsuspected ways is that our resilience as a species is built. Similarly, it is only out of the species actions and will to survive that our planet’s resilience is built. The challenge is to avoid that our selfishness blinds us from purposes that go beyond our immediate scope of control.
This sense of resilience as a species grows rapidly when we are facing threats. All sorts of organisations from sports teams, to tribes or nations, have used the idea of a common threat to encourage people to succeed together. When that common threat creates a purpose it becomes evident that selfishness by itself is not enough.
Right now, for the first time, we are confronting a common global threat, which will test our ability to work together for a common purpose. Some can call it a war, but I do not want to live my life at war, so I rather call it a purpose: to make our species thrive whilst ensuring we don’t destroy the very system that supports us. In this case, it is not nationalism, or only protecting ourselves or our families what will make us prevail. Our sense of responsibility needs to be extended beyond the usual short-range boundaries of time and geography in which we so comfortably operate. We must get this responsibility part right, so we can continue celebrating life.