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How Do You Define Yourself ? #Compassion #Peace #Humanity

I’ve been thinking a lot about identities lately.

Each identity tells its own story.

For those who watch/ listen to/ read the news each of the following words, garbled up, might mean something:

Shooters Far right Right wing Anti-gun activists Bleeding hearts Liberal Democrat Republican Muslim Shia Sunni Hindu Catholic Buddhist Christian Protestant Syrians Jews Migrants Left wing Believers Atheists Bhakts Sickular Mullahs Minorities Blacks Niggers Whites Mexicans Politicians Actors Musicians Artists Authors Prostitutes Doctors Astronauts Communists Capitalists Transexuals Mainstream Gays Lesbian Diversity Chinese Indian American Malaysian Russian Japanese Malay Refugees Migrants Locals Foreigners Indigenous Tribals Urban dwellers Europeans Arabs Racists Jews Supremacists Fundamentalists Terrorists Experts Farmers Drivers Dreamers Children

Such an abundance of terms. I could go on, so could we all.

Such a variety of  ways to describe this species, that science recognizes with the one term: Homo Sapiens.

Such insignificance in the history of this planet. If the entire history of the planet is mapped to twenty four hours in time, humans occupy less than the last two minutes.

How Do You Define Yourself? Damyanti Writes

How Do You Define Yourself?

Such utter insignificance in this universe, less than a microscopic dot in a minuscule corner of one of the billions of galaxies.

And yet.

And yet we’re at each others’ throats, we murder, we rape, we shoot, we kill, we wipe out entire generations of humans, animals, plants. We can’t give life back, but we don’t hesitate for a minute before we take it. We live as if we’ll never die, as if this planet can bear our depredations.

I say We, because I believe that all of us, including me, are culpable. In living our lives without an awareness of what we’re part of, of our place in the scheme of things, we’re culpable.

Some of us believe that the destruction and mayhem afoot on this planet is pretty ho-hum, it happened in each age, we survived dark ages and holocaust in every generation, and like indestructible cockroaches, we shall survive this one.

But in all the other ages, the world was spread out– civilizations rose and fell mostly in isolation, affecting each other in historical ripples. Can’t deny that it is different this time. Globalize and Glocalize are words now. Human population is set to exceed sustainable levels soon.

In all of it, I see one hope: the fact that humans as a species are capable of as much beauty as we can create ugliness, as much compassion as cruelty, as many dreams as nightmares.

Do you see hope for Humanity? For our planet? What name do you give yourself– of your country, your tribe, your religion, your profession, your relationships? What do you teach your children about who they are: who they should love and who or what they should hate? How do you define good and bad to them?

And perhaps, most importantly…

How do you define Yourself?

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Looking at the fate of humanity on the planet earth today’s.

  • Big thoughts, and yes, they go through my mind daily. I do think the majority of humans are, on the whole, decent, BUT we are all selfish. That selfishness is one of the causes, by knock-on effects of many of the really serious global problems. Our leaders should help by legislating and making clear to us where our behaviour will lead us. Sadly, many of them, even with high ideals, are seduced (as we all are) by money, fear and popularity. We must all of us try to do better, or we will go the way of the dodo and the planet with adjust itself after we have gone.

  • Good post. I agree wholeheartedly about everyone being culpable. Unfortunately, we just don’t care about the suffering of those people in another continent, or even just another country in the same continent that we live in…or another town in our own country…or even in another street in the same town that we live in.

    For me, I’ve found it harmfel to try to define myself. Sometimes, I’ve done it and then found myself trying to fulfil my definition rather than just being myself.

  • equinoxio21 says:

    (just read) 😉 Type too fast.

  • equinoxio21 says:

    Self definition is a tad difficult: I’m a Frenchman born in Pakistan, raised in Asia and Africa, educated in France and the US, married to a Colombian and all now live in Mexico. Speak half a dozen languages, some badly, others reasonably well. So what would be my definition? Don’t know. What I know, is that human stupidity and greed is driving us into the wall in many places. Mexico is a corrupt hole. And so is much of South America. Africa is a disaster. Been there. The middle East is a wreck. Asia seems to be pulling ahead, but there are some sour spots. No-one seems to remember the 60 million dead of WWII, and everybody seems to be (secretly) happy at the idea of going at each other’s throats again. The only problem as I see it, is that this time, there are H-Bombs. So it will not be 60 million dead, but more like 600 million? or billions?
    I just an article where two distinguished French intellectuals very seriously discussed the possiblity of another French-German war in the next 30 years.
    Hey! Am I the only one to see it coming?

  • D.G.Kaye says:

    A poignant post. I think whe you said “But in all the other ages, the world was spread out– civilizations rose and fell mostly in isolation,” that was key. Once upon a time in the world every country minded their own business. The politics are out of control. Everything said and done now in the world has a domino effect.

  • Such a fantastic post to ponder!

    I don’t believe that the world is doomed, but I believe that there are a number of unsustainable patterns taking place currently. Not a single one of them is irreversible, but inaction could cost the human race its entire existence.

    That’s where all of the labels that you mentioned come into play. As soon as we identify a speaker as being part of one of those groups that we don’t like, we write them off or warp their meaning in our minds to make them fit into the little enemy box that we have constructed for them and their group. We have to stop this.

    It’s a pointless distraction that leads to people throwing their hands up in the air and giving up, and like I said, inaction could cost us our entire existence.

  • macjam47 says:

    I very thought provoking post.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – sadly man is selfish and very self-centred … and they don’t think. Dictators are just awful – but they will get their cum-uppance somewhere … earth will survive, somewhere along the line I suspect we won’t .. but it’s a long line away. In the meantime some must suffer horribly … very sadly – cheers Hilary

  • I see us as Carl Sagan might, with cautious hope, amazement at our diversity within a single species, an understanding that our smallness on the cosmic scale was not a testament to our insignificance, but to our vulnerability–after all subatomic particles are quite small, but hardly insignificant. A la Pale Blue Dot.

    I see us as an anthropologist–knowing that while we tout our species as the ultimate in evolution, that flawed perspective leaves out the fact that the hominin family tree is a scrubby, low-growing shrub. We continue to evolve, to respond on both a biological and a cultural level to pressures from other human groups and our environment. The local is global, the global is local–extend that perspective to the cosmos, to the Arrow of Time, to the changes bring wrought on the smallest and largest stages of Us. I think we will learn. Not without pain or significant attrition to our herd, but we will survive beyond these fragile minutes in the cosmic calendar.

    For the individual, certainly the probability of survival becomes nil if the time is extended far enough. But the species may endure in any scenario that does not include a mass extinction. Perhaps not as we are, or in the way we would like to believe. But life is a canny thing. I define my Being by the unrepeatable experiences of my subjective Present, even while I understand that I am a fortuitous concatenation of energy. Unintended matter capable of intention, of self-reference, and seeing beyond the boundaries of I.

  • mdellert says:

    Reblogged this on MDellert-dot-Com and commented:
    Deep and sobering post, Damyanti. Albert Camus once said, “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” We need to be doing a better job of it.

  • mdellert says:

    A deep and sobering topic for the week, Damyanti.

    Albert Camus is reported to have said, “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” Apparently, we writers aren’t doing a very good job of it lately…

    “Do you see hope for Humanity?” In the movie, “Fight Club,” a sobering thought is presented in voice-over: “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” It’s a statement that has a certain truth for us as individuals and as a species. We’re none of us getting out of this alive, no matter how well we safeguard our lives and our environment.

    Stephen Crane:

    A man said to the universe:
    “Sir I exist!”
    “However,” replied the universe,
    “The fact has not created in me
    A sense of obligation.”

    Assuming we do overcome our petty differences and find peace and long-term resources for our continued survival, the world melts down in a nuclear fire in 5 billion years when the sun goes supernova.

    “For our planet?” See above.

    But that’s all very fatalistic of me. Do I have hope in humanity? Yes. We are capable of so much love, so much kindness, so much honor, and so much compassion. So long as men and women of good conscience stand together against injustice and indignity, against violence and oppression, there will always be hope, right up til the moment the sun swallows us in fire.

    “What name do you give yourself– of your country, your tribe, your religion, your profession, your relationships?” American of Irish-Italian-German extraction. Catholic. Writer. Father, son, brother, lover, friend.

    “What do you teach your children about who they are: who they should love and who or what they should hate?” You are who you choose to be. Love everyone as you would be loved. Hate no one, for hate returns three times to he who creates it.

    “How do you define good and bad to them?” Good is that which promotes the continuation of life, honor, and dignity. Bad is that which is inimical to life.

    “How do you define Yourself?” My self is that which I cannot see.

  • Peter Nena says:

    Damyanti, thank you for this post. These questions have troubled me. I have cogitated upon them and decided that there can be no hope for humanity. I think of humanity as a giant rock that is rolling downhill, gaining momentum towards its own violent crash. Like an avalanche. It cannot be stopped. Every attempt to stop it instead increases its momentum. Sometimes pieces of it fall off, slow down, look around, and, with terror, understand the horror that’s coming for them. So they scream at it to stop, they criticise, they berate, advise. But all in vain. Even these pieces are headed in the same direction.

    I have thought: when people had religion, when they thought they were serving the Creator, they were just evil. Murdering things, sacrificing, waging (holy) wars, prejudiced against those who didn’t serve the same gods. They were destroying lives for idols, etc. Then came Science, and the murders, the sacrifices, went on. The theory of Evolution justified genocides. I have read about the animal mutilations and murder in Europe which prompted H.G. Wells to write ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’. And I have read about the unfortunate slaves in America who were sometimes used as guinea pigs to develop Western medicine. The horrors of the Jews in the concentration camps, etc.
    So, for me, it doesn’t matter whether we have science or religion. Everyone justifies their awful shit. Humans are set against one another. They will never stop until the last one drops.

    It is true that the earth has endured more terrible times. I have read my Bible as a history book, and I must say it carries a very sad history. The book of Daniel is truly scary.

    But these days the earth is just toxic. You can feel it when you walk through the city. All rivers in Nairobi are flowing sewage. Around me everything is dying off. Everything, except people. Humans thrive at the expense of everything else. Even houseflies are disappearing. Birds, butterflies. Insects. Trees are being felled as if they pose an immortal threat.

    So why should humans have hope when nothing else has? What good is humanity to anything else? And when all is dead, even the grass, and the earth is but a desert, another Mars, what hope will be there to speak of? I saw a NASA report that the earth is running out fresh water.

    And by the way, I think insects, even houseflies, and birds, and the rest of the animas are more important to Nature than are humans. They are part of the energy cycle. Humans no longer give back to Nature. Humans just consume the planet.

  • aj vosse says:

    Powerful words and thoughts… yes, there’s only one thing wrong with mankind… MAN!!

    • Peter Nena says:

      But, somehow, we all know what to do to save earth. It is in almost all our literature. The heroes we choose to represent us. Compassion, caring, love. If we could afford to just accept one another. To share. To hold each other’s hand. It seems most of the things we do are intended to make us standout out, to gain respect, love. If we could give those virtues freely. By instincts.
      But that’s too much to ask, to risk. It will collapse economies. And right economic value of anything is foremost. Even babies!

  • cleemckenzie says:

    I’ve never read about an history period or lived in a time when the news wasn’t about violence. Giving peace a chance has never happened as much as we pray for it and “work” toward it. I’m not a pessimist, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope of ever seeing peace on planet earth. Very sad.

  • saine13 says:

    Reblogged this on Saine Corner and commented:
    Thought provoking… the human race has so many things that divide us from one another… perhaps that is why peace is such a hard thing to obtain and keep.

  • it is the duty of a writer to identify what is wrong with society and campaign to put it right. It is a never ending task and if you do not do it, you cannot expect anyone else to fill that small, important place you have filled.

  • I’m on the side of the “Not much hope for humanity” group. I sit out on my deck in the mornings…as I am now. I can hear a train whistle receding in the distance. I can right at this moment hear a jet overhead. A car is passing down the road. When all of this goes away as it is doing right now. I hear nothing. I look at the lovely tree line behind my house. Blue jays and redbirds are beginning to fly back and forth. A wind has picked up blowing leaves into silver. How is it we so glibly destroy so much of this? Not far from my house about five HUGE piles of wood–used to be trees–are being burned, they call it slash. A large area has been cleared for housing. We humans are remarkably selfish.

    I absolutely do not believe in Hell. You can think of the worst tortures ever, and I guarantee you they have already been done–right here on earth.

    We possess Heaven right here in our back yards, and we don’t even realize it. When I look at a rose bud–here on my deck–with clear drops of dew on the outer orange petals, I am staring at ultimate paradise. If I think oh, hey, I’m gonna leave this place and go to paradise somewhere else, I’m simply buying into another power-house institution that works to blind us all to the sheer beauty right before our eyes. This is paradise! This is the Garden! There is no inside/outside. We were never cast out of the Garden. We are the Garden. Our survival, our physical and spiritual growth depends on how well we relate to this tiny blue marble.

    Is there hope? I don’t know. I do know that when I die, I want to be able to say, “I did what I could to help this exquisitely beautiful planet–this earth, that feeds us, clothes us, and shelters us–to survive.”

    Thank you for the opportunity to get this out!

  • ccyager says:

    You’ve asked some HUGE questions! I doubt that most people have taken the time to really examine themselves enough to answer. Introspection, here in America, isn’t as prized as action, but introspection provides individuals with the opportunity to decide what their intent in this world is. Intent is everything.

    Americans grieve once again for innocent shooting victims. After each mass shooting, I think that maybe this time Congress will do the work to revise the 2nd Amendment and also be clearer about the gun laws already on the books. The mass shootings remind me of Doris Lessing’s novel Briefing for a Descent into Hell and how over-population can breed madness and destruction.

    How do I define myself? First and foremost, I am a human being whose intent in this life is to do no (intentional) harm. My government defines me in terms of gender, race, age, and location of residence. My friends define me in terms of my personality and intelligence. My doctors define me in terms of the chronic diseases I have and they treat (or fail to treat) well. At my part-time job, I am defined in terms of my work ethic and my work performance. But no matter how I’m defined by others or in what circumstances, I am forever a human being.

  • oshrivastava says:

    Reblogged this on oshriradhekrishnabole.

  • Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

  • I don’t have much hope for humanity. I am a misanthrope (most of the time). What perks me up is the thought that the earth and Life has survived worse than us. There is a book called The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which is interesting to read. With this attitude, I suppose I’m not helping much, beyond witnessing the beauty and splendour of the earth, but always with sadness at the destruction we inflict.

  • Religion a dangerous tool that politicians misuse in the killing of innocent people. Honestly, I am scared how the notion of identity is being used in horrified acts. Just imagine how beef is killing people and used by extremists. Is identity a relative term, makes me wonder!!

  • Birgit says:

    There is so much here in the words you use but we must have hope and faith for when we fail to see that, that is when we need to worry. It takes one person to make a difference in the world. Think of how many wonderful people helped shape this world. It is easy to name the negative, we do this every day but we must also see how much beauty there is surrounding us. It can be tough at times especially when one watches the news but, if we stand back and look at our fellow man, there is hope.

  • Im constantly evolving and just dont fit inside many of the outer labels. I believe that as a species we are co stntly evolving. The worse things seem only signifies that deep change is afoot. And these are qualitative changes for the better

  • This is a very well written and thought provoking article. We really do need to take an inventory of our direction and belief in this age as we are slowly self destructing. Scientists and religionists are agreed on one point, thought they approach it from different perspectives. The earth’s age is drawing to a close. Scientists look to intervention in global warming or a colony on Mars (of all places) to escape. Religionists see their escape to another better world beyond the grave. I give my nod to religion, there is more positivity and possibility in that for me.

  • simple brain of monkey look around and see too many unhinged human creature on planet of diminishing resource + increasing uncleanness. this not bode well for poor human creature. it make monkey feel sadness for decent human who live now & human to come.

  • I’m a citizen of the world… and a dreamer. Something will happen soon… before all is lost! Serenity :-)claudine

  • chattykerry says:

    What a wise post with such perspective. It is so true that homo sapiens is a mere blink in the history of the earth. The earth will survive without our species and life, in some form, will go on. All we can do is be kind and compassionate to our world and every species including our own. Pass it on!

  • rxena77 says:

    ways. People rightly denounce Hitler, but Stalin murdered millions more and ruled for a much longer time. Putin has risen to power on the heaped bodies of his rivals.
    Hope for the world.

    Is there any? As Sci Fi and Scary wrote — there is hope for this planet since it has endured ice ages and comets/asteroids ending most life on it. For Man? Not so much.

    In the septic tank of politics, the biggest chunks always rise to the top. Yet, think on what Gandhi wrote:

    “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”

    Still in the meantime, millions have perished in terrible
    Do you know the largest concentration camp still operating in the world today?

    The Rosebud Reservation.

    No barbed wire is needed for it is surrounded by hundreds of miles of harsh desert. I remember my half-Lakota mother stopping at a gas station and seeing the sign: “No Dogs or Indians Allowed.”

    Mother cried, for she had wanted to shield me from the bigotry of whites for a bit longer. I just laughed: I found the company of most dogs better than that of most humans.

    I agree with Alex: with God there is always hope. I can imagine the rolling eyes of some who just read that. The Lakota call God the Great Mystery, and though only part Lakota, I often call him that, too, since what He is up to is usually a great mystery to me — one such mystery is why He made us at all.

    Two-leggeds. They insist on being oblivious to the obvious. In a world where they comfort their memories of being shabby by making of this wondrous world a maelstrom of meaninglessness. And in such chaos, how could there be God or His rules to live by?

    Yet their own scientists show the fallacy of this thinking with their Chaos Theory. We must sometimes give the Great Mystery indigestion.

    Great Mystery. What is that name really?

    Only a sound for what cannot be named or spoken or expressed in any correct way in human language.

    I apologize for going on for so long. You wrote a very thought provoking post. Thank you. 🙂

  • wallcat says:

    I think people can be quite insular within our cities and our homes, focussing on what personally affects us and not thinking about our life on a grander scale. I recently encountered a stray cat hunting a mouse and was surprised to find a huge commotion of people around it. They were getting very upset and accusing the cat of being cruel and naughty. While it’s not a pleasant sight, it seemed odd to me because this is unfortunately how nature works. Humans are also guilty for being cruel – perhaps more so – than any cat, but it seems many of us have forgotten considering that we can buy our food neatly wrapped up in a supermarket. I think for many of us it can be a challenge to confront the nature of life, and it helps us to cope by not considering how long our time or influence might be on this planet. That being noted, I’ve also read somewhere that acknowledging our own mortality can be a bit of a wake up call to our own behaviour. It can also be easier to think in black and white, but it’s not how things really are. If the cat didn’t catch the mouse for example, then they’ll go hungry. I struggle with the thought of a life being snuffed out because it’s so final and irreplaceable, but maybe we’re lucky just for having a chance at existence in the first place, if you consider how slim a chance that is.

    I guess I try to be as empathetic as I can be and to see the world through many different lenses. I did loose my faith in humanity at one point and will have moments where I feel like there is no hope (usually upon hearing a dark news story.) I once heard that if humans were wiped out everything else would thrive better without us. Then I try to remind myself of all the beautiful things humans have bought to the world. Those wonderful people that do bring compassion with them. It’s also pretty amazing how humanity has developed, endured and shaped the world around us. I’m not sure what the future has in store for us, but the world and its inhabitants are always adapting and history is written by those that continue to thrive.

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  • Z. says:

    There is so much here to consider; from “who am I” to “what role do I play?” I don’t know where to begin, or if I even have an answer.

    I believe some of these questions can only be answered at the end of a lifetime, if even then. Perhaps it is the consideration of these things, and the aiming to be better and do better, that will allow me to give a clean answer at the end of my personal evolution – in the sheets of my death bed.

    For now, I can only hope it is honest to say “I am compassion helping others towards healing.”

    I’ll be mulling over these words for a while. Thank you for that.

  • Reblogged this on Reaching Joy and commented:
    I thoroughly believe in all the main points this wise writer makes. A must read…

  • cphickey77 says:

    your blog provoked me. thank you. my word, my identity:fellowship. I think we all need to strive for this a bit more. in that, we will go further together than we ever could apart. I have hope. I am hope. We have hope. We are hope.

  • There has always been an ability for humans to connect their energies. For a long time our minds were so filled with clutter that we lost our natural abilities. There was a time that people relied on telepathy to communicate with neighbouring clans and now we have an ability via the internet to connect globally, we have an opportunity to share on a huge scale that energy. Humans are at different levels of evolvement and the energies are very mixed. If all humans came together with only good energies at the same time what an amazing planet we could create. Sadly the dark energies are strong in terms of corruption, greed, cruelty and religion and these dark energies must be overcome first in the battle between good and evil. You have written an interesting, thought provoking piece here Damyanti xx

  • Without hope, there is no accountability. Without accountability there is no reason to act unselfishly. When we act selfishly, we don’t produce we only consume. Consumption leads to depletion, leads to destruction. Stopping the downward spiral begins with hope.

  • ramexa says:

    I honestly don’t have faith in humanity. We humans don’t care about anyone but ourselves.

  • Do you see hope for Humanity? I don’t. I think we passed the point where our good will could save us. We are, collectively, too selfish to continue as a race and I believe we will meet our end sooner rather than later.

    For our planet? OH yes, definitely. This planet will continue long after humanity has crumbled to dust. To think we could destroy the planet is to indulge in a massive amount of egotistical behavior.

    What do you teach your children about who they are: who they should love and who or what they should hate? How do you define good and bad to them? I teach my child that she is who she is, and that there is nothing wrong with being who she is. I teach her that people do good things, and people do bad things. I let her love, and express her naturally exuberant and loving personality as she wants, because it so much a part of who she is, but I try to teach her caution at the same time. I try to teach her to protect herself, and to let others’ actions define them. Nothing but their actions.

    I don’t define ‘good or bad’ to her as a whole. We take it on a case by case basis.

  • I see hope. Where there is God, there is always hope.

    • As long as whatever higher power, God, Great Spirit etc. affects your actions, hope is replaced by intuitive and loving action.

  • Jnana Hodson says:

    This matter of identities — and self-identities — is inescapable. Each of us needs to make daily decisions that will have positive or negative consequences, and those decisions are influenced by those identities.
    Ultimately, though, the big problems emerge when it comes down to choices between me/others or us/them — the times we fail to see our full humanity. Or as we Quakers would say, That of God in all people.

    • K.S. Schultz says:

      I agree. We visit horrors on other people only when we fail to see our connectivity, not realizing we are harming ourselves.

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