Pushing Our Human Boundaries
I want us to push our own human boundaries to reach beyond the divides of race and region, gender and religion that keep us from seeing the best in each other.
-- Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America
Recently we discussed the Dalai Lama's call: "We must find, all of us together, a new spirituality" and Barack Obama's call for "A new declaration of independence" including independence from ideology. The theme of renewal is in the air as Obama becomes the first African-American U.S. President and the first national leader of African descent anywhere in the Western world. An even more important, common theme in those two and today's message is the call for overcoming our divisions.
Obama urges us across and beyond divisions of race, region, gender, and religion. He wrote the words quoted here today in a letter to his daughters Malia and Sasha, "What I Want for You — and Every Child in America" published two days ago. The gravity of his choice of words shows the respect with which he regards Malia and Sasha. His words were serious but no less inspirational. Obama charges young people with shared responsibility for the future and encourages them to aim high.
The theme of being more than human is also echoed, here with "pushing our human boundaries." Obama had previously offered "an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels" -- angels which CompassionRise identified as "our will, our potential, and our compassion." Working together, we become better than the sum of our individual abilities. This is the creativity of collectivity, the super humanity we summon to overcome our greatest obstacles and to which Obama calls America and the world.
Lastly, Obama identifies our divisions as "human boundaries," which is to say that we have created these divisions, and we can undo them. Gender is biological but prejudice and discrimination based on gender are subject to our will, we can choose not to and learn not to and teach our children not to discriminate. Obama also identifies religion as a human boundary, an obstacle to a better world which we must overcome together.
In "A Portrait of Change -- In First Family, a Nation's Many Faces" Jodi Kantor of The New York Times wrote today:
The Obama family ... looks almost nothing like their overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly Protestant predecessors [as America's ruling families]. The family that produced Barack and Michelle Obama is black and white and Asian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. Though the world is recognizing the inauguration of the first African-American president, the story is a more complex narrative, about immigration, social mobility and the desegregation of one of the last divided institutions in American life: the family. It is a tale of self-determination, full of refusals to follow the tracks laid by history or religion or parentage.
Kantor failed to note that Barack Obama's mother was an atheist or humanist -- which term she preferred is not clear. Though Obama was raised by his mother and only once met his father briefly, much has been made of Obama's father's Muslim heritage, while there has been little mention of Obama's mother's choice to not believe in gods and not practice a religion.
Race is a wholly human concept which has no biological merit. When we expand our idea of race outside our regional boundaries, we see even that race has no social merit. Consider for example that from a Western perspective, everyone in India would be of the same "race," so we might think racism would not be a problem. Within India though, prejudice based on the relative lightness or darkness of a person's skin is a terribly serious issue -- thousands of years old, harshly unjust, and with a large majority of the population resistant to change.
Division by region refers to the territorial basis of our laws and it is prescient, if not yet politically popular for Obama to apply a slight presidential erasure to America's borders. Territorial law is a root cause of instability in our global economy, a threat to international security, and an obstacle to coordinated environmental policy. Borders are a leading cause of injustice suffered by citizens of every city, state, and nation, as corporations and criminals operate without regard for borders and often beyond the reaches of border-bound governments and border-based law.
Nations and states once served a great purpose. The division of our world into territories provided global stability with room for experimentation when we knew less of each other. Now, territorial law prevents stability and disallows the experimentation we need to address global issues like our shared economy, environment, Internet, or security issues from identity theft to piracy and terrorism. For the protection and service of global citizens and consumers we need nothing less than increasingly global government, and it is awesome that the new president of the United States has started in office by signaling his agreement.
Barack Obama has taken many steps already to bring this world closer together. Most of them have been personal, rhetorical, or symbolic. His service on the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee and his leadership on some international policy issues are preface to more material and governmental action in the coming days and years. He is pushing our human boundaries, while asking all of us, including our children, to join him and to join each other, to open our minds and see the best in each other, so we make the best of our shared future.