Our Shared Humanity

“True artists scorn nothing : they are obliged to understand rather than to judge. And if they have to take sides in this world, they can perhaps side only with that society in which not the judge but the creator will rule, whether he be a worker or an intellectual.”

Albert Camus 

 

About a month ago I jumped at a Spotify notification that announced a new single from one of my best loved bands. It was System of a Down’s first release in 15 whole years. 

Never had I imagined that they would finally come together to create new music. But their small reunion wasn’t a mere coincidence. It turned out that their homeland, Armenia had been attacked by Azerbaijan, aided by the forces of Turkey and Israel — a conflict that I hadn’t been aware of until that point. 

In the times when the war was most rife, when they prayed every day that they would no longer wake up to text messages in the morning telling them that their relatives and friends had died, they banded together to raise funds for their homeland, by writing and recording two new songs, “Protect the Land” and “Genocidal Humanoidz”.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic at their new release. But it also devastated me in a way, when I thought about how insatiable our impulses for warfare and hatred are. Many centuries have passed, and we haven’t changed the slightest from being the warmongers that were recorded in the earliest history texts.

And not to debate on which side is in the right, but to take the current situation into account : who attacks a country during COVID-19?

In the litany of issues that continue to divide us, it made me think about our responsibility as artists, which is to connect us rather than disconnect, to promote love rather than hatred, to constantly remind us of the shared humanity that we all have, in that we live, breathe, and bleed the same way. 

As Albert Camus so poignantly expressed in his Nobel speech, “Often he who has chosen the fate of the artist because he felt himself to be different soon realizes that he can maintain neither his art nor his difference unless he admits that he is like the others. The artist forges himself to the others, midway between the beauty he cannot do without and the community he cannot tear himself away from. That is why true artists scorn nothing: they are obliged to understand rather than to judge. And if they have to take sides in this world, they can perhaps side only with that society in which, according to Nietzsche’s great words, not the judge but the creator will rule, whether he be a worker or an intellectual.”

Turning to my bookshelf, I went over Homer’s “Iliad” again. 

The “Iliad” renders a fictional account of the Trojan War, a long bloodshed between the Trojans and the Achaeans. Its timeless quality lies in its acute depiction of human nature. The Greeks were a people who loved war, and Homer showed that just about any small reason would suffice in justifying their going into battle. 

Homer portrays a riveting picture of the warriors at war, in all their courage and gallantry. But he also invites us to think about the trauma and desolation that are experienced by the warriors, as well as their families at home.

The story’s hero, Achilles of the Trojans chooses to go to war, leaving his father behind in their homeland, with the great possibility of never returning. And with that, his father must mentally and emotionally prepare for the day when he might have to bury his son. 

Achilles fights valiantly, and is rewarded with a consolation prize of fame and glory. At heart, all he wants to do is to go home. 

In the climax of the story, Homer forces us to rethink about our whole idea of courage. King Priam of the Achaeans bravely walks unguarded and unarmed into Achilles’s tent, prostrates to him and begs him for a proper burial for his son, whom Achilles had killed. King Priam falls to his knees and humbles himself, absolutely not out of his thirst for glory, but simply out of a father’s love for his son. 

Achilles recognizes the shared humanity in his enemy, and that is perhaps his most important achievement in the story. He grants King Priam his wish, thinking to himself that King Priam reminded him of his own father. 

That’s exactly what we need to be reminded of, constantly — courage doesn’t necessarily mean being brave enough to overcome dangerous hurdles. It could just as well mean being able to unseat your own ego, to restrain your selfish impulses, and to recognize that we are all human beings at the end of the day in our common, pain, joy and sorrow, ingenuity, as well as our penchant for stupidity. 

This doesn’t have to be about war or politics. Look into your own life. The next time a waiter treats you badly, simply tell yourself that he’s probably just having a bad day. The next time you feel tempted to honk or shove your big finger out the window when a person cuts you off in traffic, tell yourself that he or she might just be having diarrhea. 

Or, some people are just jerks. But instead of being offended, take it objectively as part of human nature. Life’s too short to get worked up about that. 

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