We Know So Little of Each Other

“Herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor—all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked—who is good? Not that men are ignorant—what is truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men.”

~ W.E.B. Du Bois

William Edward Burghart Du Bois (1868-1963) was an African-American scholar, author, socialist and political activist. He was the very first person of colour to earn a doctorate degree in the United States. Du Bois was a founding father of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in 1909. He opposed racism and bigotry in all of its ugly forms and believed that education was the key to achieving the goals of full rights and liberties under the law.

When I first considered these words, I re-read them quickly thinking that I had not understood. But of course poverty, wickedness and ignorance are tragic, are they not? According to Du Bois, the real misfortune is that we know so little of each other. These words were taken from his book The Souls of Black Folk published in 1903. Standards of education have risen substantially in the century since he wrote this book. But is the conclusion he draws any less valid? Not one bit.

I have an Arts educational background, and I taught high school History for thirty-five years. I do not claim to have any expertise in the fields of psychology or sociology, but I have made it a point to study the way people behave. Everything I learned from courses, my outside reading, and observations over the years led me to a conclusion that validates Du Bois’ opinion. It is my belief that despite the tremendous advancements in knowledge and technology, human nature has not changed at all since humanity first appeared.

History and my life experiences have shown me that people fear and react negatively to anyone who is different. The differences may manifest in facial features, skin tone, language, or religion. None of these traits is what make us human. These differences are not significant, and we must remember that we all bleed red. We are driven by the exact same needs.

Humans are spiritual beings – in that we are the same. Many choose to express and cultivate that spirituality by way of formal religions. These religions are not drastically different, yet down through the centuries, we have butchered each other in the names of our Gods. We don’t know each other. We don’t recognise the sameness in each other. We don’t accept our oneness.

As humans, we need to be free, and we need to be secure. We need to raise our families so the species will survive. We need to give our children and grandchildren the best opportunities to live and prosper that we can. However, some of us are not willing to extend the right to satisfy these needs to people born in other lands who profess a religion different from our own.

Indeed, we also need to be safe in our own homes, our cities and in our country. Why does our need supersede the same need among those who flee from famine, repression, and from civil war? We justify our inhumanity to man by claiming these refugees on the other side of the world are a threat to our security. We deny people of colour the dignity and respect that we demand ourselves.

William Edward Burghart Du Bois was correct in 1903, and his conclusion about the real human tragedy is still valid in 2017. I need to spend the balance of my life seeking to understand, to really know my fellow human beings and to be seen modelling that behaviour. Otherwise, these 600 words are for nought.

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Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

25 thoughts on “We Know So Little of Each Other”

  1. These thoughts are very insightful. I agree with you, humans are quick to judge each other for differences yet we are so much alike. It is saddening to know that this concept has not improved since the beginning of our species.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi John,
    I so agree with you. DuBois’s conclusion is so true today as in his time. I think we close our eyes to facts and the people around us. If we were to consider that we are all brothers and sisters, we would probably come one step closer to accepting how precious the life in us really is, and the suffering of others would not be looked at as ‘they are suffering’ but as those are our brothers and sisters and they are suffering.
    I sincerely hope you understand what I mean.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat

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    1. Thanks for stopping by with your thoughtful comments, Pat. Yes, I understand. If we truly accept others as brothers and sisters in the larger human family, then I’ll feel their pain when they suffer. Their pain then becomes unacceptable.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, this post makes my old heart ache.
    We do indeed ‘all bleed red’. However my observations of what we loosely term ‘human behavior’ has shown me that when it comes to our spiritual beliefs we seem to suffer from selective color blindness to the color of red. Oh, we manage to see skin tones and other colors just fine, and we judge what ‘category’ to slot them into accordingly … let’s see now um…
    #1 … Category of TOTAL and SAFE acceptability would contain those, that look the same as we do, believe the same as we do, eat the same, read the same, laugh at the same things, share the same or at least very similar histories, and with equal or better educations. In short, its okay to have these folks over for dinner, and to invite to membership of our Totally acceptable schools, clubs, sports and we musn’t forget places of worship.

    #2 … Category of LIMITED but still relatively Safe Acceptability. These lucky! Folks, are okay to be seen talking with us at our places of work and worship, even though they may be from cultures different to our own; gasp! … provided of course that that CULTURE has proven to be worthy of our oh so perfect respect … it also helps of course if they are Doctors, Lawyers or of the third generation to be born in our exclusive little country … they must of course speak our language with great fluency, although a quaint accent is okay, oh and don’t forget that prime category of wealthy. They are introduced as ‘Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss whoever … with the additional comment of ‘he she or they are a Doctor, Lawyer, etc; you get my drift.

    #3 … Category of Shut the gated community tight, and head for the bomb shelter.

    Ah …yes. THIS category. The list is simple … anyone and everyone not encapsulated in either Category #1 … or Category #2.

    “We all bleed red”. I have spent my entire life using that expression. Why? Because I wanted so damned badly to believe that that one uniting factor would make us ALL equal.

    I believe that the only thing that would alter the fear factor is if we are ALL as a species threatened by a common enemy … maybe … just maybe we would unite as one to defend against that enemy.
    But when that threat is over, what then?
    Did I mention that this post made my old heart ache?

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    1. Gee, Soooz! Extremely well said! I agree with your observations and analysis. We Canadians like to think we’re more tolerant than most countries, but I don’t think we are on a personal level. Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

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      1. Thanks, John. I get so emotional these days. Perhaps having a dear little grandson, not yet five ask me why bad people are even in his world has shattered me more than I believed possible. The loss of innocence rips me apart at the seems.

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        1. Sometimes, Sally, I consider the historical perspective of Man’s inhumanity to man and feel depressed. At other times I feel hopeful because we’ve possessed the technology to destroy this planet for over 70 years – and we’re still here!

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  4. You (and Jan) pose great questions in response to this powerful quote, and I’ve paused to think it through a bit. I don’t think we are static, rather we either inch closer to love (and all that love means) or closer to hate (through all the forms it takes). It is a choice we have as individuals, and by our choices we create and recreate. ♥

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    1. Thanks, Gwen, for your kindness. I agree, as individuals, we grow or not by our choices. I believe that what is static is our human nature. Every child must learn values from the cultural surroundings – and the family that nurtures him/her. Our choices hinge on our values. What are the dominant values in our western societies today? Which value is primary? Hint: which members in our society are paid the highest salaries?

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  5. Not only do we all bleed red, we also share the same bodily and spiritual needs for hygiene (in its broadest sense), belonging and security. Often I think that leaving aside some cultural and technological advances (like learning to make fire and developing the wheel, through industrial revolution to the silicon chip), we’re really not substantially different from our ancient ancestors, even before we learned to record our stories, business and thoughts on clay, stone and paper!
    We’re first and foremost herd animals, which is why I often find it strange at times that the ‘individual’ and ‘uniqueness’ is so celebrated to the detriment of community and cultural traits. Du Bois’ comment is bang on – which begs the question as to why we’re still struggling to accept and celebrate our common inheritance in all the many facets they manifest across the world.
    Great thoughts, John! 😀

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