Monday, October 30, 2006

Complexity as humanity's essence

Idul Fitri celebrations just passed. They say the holy days were observed to celebrate human's return to its "essence." But what is humanity's essence?

For me, it's complexity. There is no single way to dissect humanity, as humans are both rational and emotional, individual and social, physical and spiritual, "good" and "bad."

Two weeks ago my cousin passed away. She was just 16. Her mom told this story:
She laid in the hospital bed. Signs of life were fading away. But everytime we cried, her heartbeat regained. It's as if her soul was struggling to keep her body alive, because it seems that we weren't ready to let her go. Finally we stopped crying and told her: "we're ready to let you go." And she went. Peacefully.
My cousin was an example of how the (stronger) spiritual side has to give way to a dying physical body. My grandma, at home, is the other way around. In her late 70s, her body is still OK. But her mind has increasingly given up. We can dissect the mind and the body one-by-one, but overall, when we talk about someone as a person, both aspects count.

And in the same way, humans are both rational and emotional. Everything can be rationalized, but rationality is not everything. Last Ramadhan, Arya argued against giving to beggars because "our gift was mainly to make ourselves feel good." At the end of the post, he linked to an article from The Economist that explains - neurologically - why humans feel good when they give. No surprise or contradiction here. In Islamic teaching, giving and charity (as well as making much profit) are encouraged - not just for the sake of the needy, but for the giver as well. Giving nurtures the emotional side of the giver - the side that keeps him/her humane.

An article in Kompas a few days ago tells the story of people working in Jakarta, making Rp 2,000 - 5,000 (20 - 50 cents) a day. They save Rp 1 million ($100) after a year, and spend it all for Idul Fitri purposes back in their village with their relatives. Maybe this is similar to the traditional people of Tana Toraja in Sulawesi, who spend a lifetime's saving to give a "proper" funeral celebration for their deceased, together with fellow villagers.

If on one side we have rationality, individualism, capitalism, and the physical, then on the other side we have emotions, collective order, socialism, and the spiritual. That's why any attempt to make extreme the values of one side will be challenged by equal resistance from the other side. There's nothing special going on here. It's just humanity at work.

Picture credit: Vitruvian Man, by Leonardo da Vinci - from Wikipedia

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