The Human Garden

Firstly, I’d like to mention the book The Way of Tenderness by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, a Buddhist clergywoman and writer, which prompted these thoughts. I will include a review of this book in January’s book reviews post. I have been reading this book lately and have found in it some intriguing and resonant metaphors. The author describes humanity as being plants in a garden, each with it’s own form and identity, yet all part of the garden as a whole.

Such a beautiful image.

Humanity is so diverse it’s beautiful. In two million years we’ve gone from a few thousand ape-like hominids to seven billion individuals, each with their own unique genetic combinations, identities and forms. How is that not beautiful?

With this diversity of forms and identities comes a shorthand way of referring to cultural expectations and histories, otherwise known as labels. You know, ‘white’, ‘black’, ‘brown’, ‘straight’, ‘queer’, ‘man’, woman’, that sort of thing. I’ve seen it said that these ‘labels’ are the problem, that we should get rid of the labels, because labelling is the cause of discrimination, that we should be ‘colour blind’ etc. I respectfully disagree.

It isn’t the labels that are the problem; it is the perceptions we associate with each label. Depending on our backgrounds and cultures, we might associate different labels with different ideas or perceptions. How we perceive another person is affected by their outward form, but they, that person, are not our perceptions. They are themselves. We need to acknowledge the ideas we’ve been taught to associate with each form or label and assess the truth of those ideas in relation to our lived experiences.

Imagine if you will, a group of young people gathered in a public place; it’s the school holidays, it’s warm, the city centre holds the heat just a little longer than out in the suburbs, and the river is refreshing. The young people aren’t doing anything, just standing around, or maybe sitting on the benches dotted along the river bank, talking. Maybe a few are smoking or eating junk food. How do you react?

I suggest that you would see the group differently to how I would, dependant on your age, sex, gender, ethnicity, etc. And there’s a good chance neither my own or your image is accurate. In this hypothetical situation (actually based on a trip to Lincoln during the summer) we haven’t seen what’s really there – other Homo sapiens, other branches on the tree, other plants in the garden.

Unless we, each of us, make the effort to examine our perceptions and acknowledge that what we’ve been taught to associate with particular ‘groups’ might not necessarily be true, and to understand that we see the same event or person with vision distorted by those taught associations, we will not be able to move beyond the separation that makes the human garden a cold desert of disassociation and pain.

We live in that desert while we have distorted vision; as a species our vision is so distorted we may as well be blind.

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