The Struggle To Be Human When the System Is Inhumane
We throw the designation “human” being around a little too freely. I’d prefer to acknowledge that our species is human becoming. I’ve said it before here, but after a recent experience, it’s important to reiterate:
Humans are made, not born.
What this means is that each of us needs to be consciously initiated into what it means to behave as humans. And each of us are likewise called upon to initiate others, particularly our children if we’re parents, into a human identity. Just because we are born with two legs, two arms, a torso, and a head that houses a neo-cortex does not make us human.
We are all built to be potential humans. In religious language, we are made in the image of G_d. Today’s video explores that radical possibility, biblically grounded if that’s important to you, that G_d alone is Human, and to realize our humanity is at the same time to realize divinity.
I recently had a run-in with an institution that gobbles up a huge percentage of our tax dollars—the health care system, in particular, hospitals.
My partner had surgery. (All is well). What I experienced was a lot of potential humans really struggling to be human within a system that is, frankly, inhumane. Many of the nurses, for example, were truly beautiful. I can imagine how each in their own way felt the call to serve the human condition by being nurses, doctors, anaesthetists, etc. But then they are inserted into a system which is functioning by a set of values and purposes that do not allow for the full flowering of their humanity within their vocation.
It made me think about the medical term for when doctors visit patients in a teaching hospital on the ward. They do their “rounds”. It’s exactly how I felt. We were inserted into a system in which everyone was doing their rounds. My partner was being “done”, not as an individual with very specific needs, wants, pacing, but as a unit of care, assigned to a ward. Within that reality, we encountered some truly amazing humans, who actually had to defy the institutional norms in order to express their humanity.
For example, when my partner came out of surgery, she was relatively alert, and the pain was not overwhelming. But she was
vulnerable and feeling very fragile. She asked for a nurse just to tune into her and hold her hand. The nurse was doing her charts, and told her that she didn’t have time. What the nurse “knew” was that this patient needed sedation. To make a long story short, the nurse essentially drugged her against her will.
From that moment on, the fight not to use opiate-based derivatives to control pain was on. Fortunately, the primary nurse the first night could relate to subtle energy and the craziness that certain drugs causes to sensitive, alert humans. But her partner was rolling her eyes. To her, a patient who wasn’t following the protocol was simply more work and an annoyance.
Breakfast arrived after an arduous and dark night of the soul (there was also so, so much grace). It was a previously frozen sausage with soggy toast and a lukewarm cup of really bad smelling tea. Some potential human(s) had to sign off on this non-food being served to persons whose bodies are very compromised. Everybody just kind of rolls their eyes when they hear “hospital food”, but why doesn’t this message reach the people who are signing off on the food? Paul talks about the “principalities and powers” as forces that need to be redeemed if we are to become humans. I’m not joking when I say that the food I could barely stand to look at in the hospital was evil. It was the product of a system (multiple systems actually, health care, food, etc.) that are dehumanized. The principalities and powers triumph every time one of those meals is consumed by a potential human.
But this inhumanity of the system manifests in more subtle ways. In the process of having to care for so many patients and do their charting, carry out orders, nurses generally move way too fast, speak way too loudly, do blood pressure tests way too briskly and do not take the time to orient patients to what is happening. They are out of coherence and grossly mistuned to the reality of those they are caring for. This is experienced as a kind of violence by the vulnerable and fragile. Unless of course you are dissociated from your body by narcotics. Which one has to conclude is why everybody in recovery is drugged. But you feel it even on narcotics. It registers in your psyche. You just don’t worry about while the drug is active.
Even while I can empathize with the nurses and staff, who are being dehumanized by the very system that employs them—and recognize that for some the struggle is truly heroic, let’s not be naive. It needs also to be said that there are potential humans in the system who are not actually interested in realizing their humanity, and for this the system itself is a vessel for expressing inhumanity. The principalities and powers are not merely a mythic superstition of early religion. These non-human forces are operative.
What got us through the dark nights, because my partner refused narcotics, was the loving prayer of a wide circle of friends and family, and frankly we were praying without ceasing to open to the healing power of creation, G_d, the gods, higher beings. This could be a subject for another blog. But we radically underestimate the power of prayer in these situations, even for pain control. Love is the great healer.
In integral philosophy the domains of consciousness (I), intersubjectivity (We or Culture), and Systems are irreducible. When the souls of very good people are embedded in systems (economic, political, and social) that reflect values that actively undermine the emergence of the human being, the system itself, and not only the consciousness of the individuals need to be transformed—in religious language converted, or connected back in to Source.
As I write this I am painfully aware of being one of these potential humans who has been embedded and initiated into systems that reflect the principalities and powers, and not the Christ Mystery. But experiences like this one remind me why it is so critical to be aligned with the intention to consciously become human and seek all the help we can find from whatever sources to catalyze this evolution to realize the high calling of becoming human.
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