Most of us know the familiar tale that we came out of Africa, but do we really understand what this means? This means that all of our so-called differences are superficial, and we are more alike than not. I recently watched the above National Geographic show on The Human Family Tree, and was amused to see it was based in my diverse neighborhood of New York: Astoria. I moved here after spending nearly five years in India, where my husband is from. The show traces the common ancestry of those participating in the genetic experiment, and explains the different migration patterns of groups as they left Africa.
Throughout my own life journey I have had plenty of migrations and have spent lots of time exploring questions of culture and belonging. I am constantly struck by the irony that despite being surrounded by crowds, it's very easy to drown in a sense of separation. Without knowing many people in a new place, I have searched for a community in which I can belong.
On the surface, we are all unique. Yet rather than cherish our individuality, we constantly strive to fit in to our perception of what is socially desirable. We need the validation of others. Rarely do we relish our innate qualities.
Dig a little deeper though, and there is not too much that distinguishes us from each other. From the cellular or genetic level, to the more metaphysical level of thoughts and emotions, we are all humans.
Why is this so hard to see sometimes?
We are all equally capable of recognizing the humanity in others, and of showing them empathy and compassion. So what is holding us back? Why can we not become more evolved beings?
Seeing the progression of human migrations in the video, I was reminded how humans have evolved as integral parts of a larger group and as inseparable from the environment. Now, however, we find ourselves removed from the whole in many ways and living lives devoid of meaning and purpose.
Thanks to a tweet I came across about the idea of information overload, i.e. "data smog" leading to depression, I found a book called Spontaneous Happiness by Dr Weil, and was struck by his main idea that modern lifestyles are the leading cause of depression. It may not be his unique idea, nor anything new, but it helps to remind ourselves how foreign our lives are to the way we have evolved over thousands of years.
He says, "Our lives in the developed world have largely gone from hard and generally content to easy and often depressed."
Humans have been using tools for many millenia, and they have no doubt allowed us to advance to our current level of comfortable lifestyles. Yet if we are already experiencing a lack, of community, contentment or otherwise, we need to be careful. If we rely solely on technology to fill the gaps in our life, it may only end up widening them.
We need to continue to connect with one another, finding a balance between online and offline realms. But we also need to cultivate a desire to keep evolving as an entire species, solving our common problems in the spirit of collaboration, and not leaving out those without access to new tools whose traditional wisdom should also be preserved. Above all, we need to develop an all-encompassing sense of self, one which transcends the superficial distinctions we have created.
Becky Band Jain is a nonprofit communications specialist and blogs at www.BeckyBlab.com on everything from technology to psychology and culture. She spent the last five years living in India and she’s now based in New York. She’s a dedicated yoga and meditation practitioner and is passionate about the possibilities of new technologies to facilitate social change. Connect with her on Twitter at @bexband.