How do you define “humanity”? What is your contribution to the collective space of humanity? How does your spiritual path support this definition and contributions?
I have been thinking about these questions ever since they were put forth to me, and I am realizing that my definition of humanity is actually pretty broad. In my own mind, I have been using the term “personhood” as opposed to “humanity” to denote an independent, sentient individual. Sometimes I feel as though the term humanity is not all embracing enough. I have come to think of certain animals as sentient, such as dolphins and whales, and feel that if we do not embrace them as equals, then we lose our own “humanity.” The concept of personhood can be applied in so many ways, as in acknowledging a child’s right to live in a safe, clean, loving home, or the right of women not to be objectified and harassed and raped, or a person of color’s right not to be under immediate suspicion and brutalized by the police.
At the same time that I wish the term “humanity” were more inclusive, I also am mildly overwhelmed at the question, “What is your contribution to the collective space of humanity?” In comparison to individuals like Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King Jr, and Mother Theresa, this question makes me feel quite small and humble indeed. I have yet to find a cure for cancer, solve the human genome, or write a symphony. I have never fought in battle, I am not exceptionally outstanding in the athletic arena, and I’ve never won a Nobel or a Pulitzer. The question itself seems incredibly broad. What do I bring to the table?
I am a teacher. In my day-to-day life, I teach art and art history to my college students. At a time in American history when both the arts and education are targeted for budget cuts and their importance in our lives minimized, the voices of teachers in the arts are like voices in the wilderness calling for action, respect, and acknowledgement. The history of art is indeed the history of humanity. Ever since the first prehistoric artist picked up a piece of ochre or charred wood and drew on a cave wall, humans have made art, and indeed I will say, have NEEDED art.
The art we humans produce is a reflection of our humanity, and a reflection of times when we have not shown one another humanity and has been a call and cry for change and justice. Through art history we see the many paths the human race has taken through out time, ways in which we have viewed both beauty and ugliness. It also mirrors for us how we have seen ourselves whether through peace time and war time, artists reflect what is happening around them. We can remember where we have been through the study of art.
My art is directly tied into my spiritual path, and is the lightening rod for everything I do in both the mundane and spiritual realms. I would say the same thing for my teaching. The legacy I wish to leave behind is one in which I helped humanity evolve by helping individuals find their own paths and spirits through art, whether or not they choose to become artists themselves. In my artist statement on my website, I state that art is essential. This has never been more true then it is today.