What is human nature? What is human existence?
The first is asking who am I or who are we. What is our human being?
The second is asking who am I /we to be. What is human becoming?
When we consider our nature, we are considering the past to now. What have we become? What is our genetic structure? We analyze the human organism as it has evolved; it behavior in its environment; the various systems (digestive, blood, energy, nervous); our capacities and drives as they have evolved; our products, our culture including social memories and knowledge. This is the realm of science and art and critical thinking. The realm of facts.
When we consider our existence, we are considering our now to the future. What will we become. What are our possibilities; our intentionalities. What do we want to be, choose to be? What world and culture do we want to inhabit? This is the realm of ethics and politics and deliberative thinking. The realm of values.
But while we distinguish these questions, moments, and realms, we know they are not separated because we are a dynamic-being between past and future. Our being is to become. And thanks to our evolved ability to use symbols and in so doing create culture, what we know as fact is always shaped by value; and our values are always limited by facts. That is why we must ask these questions together. Even asking the questions implies a value; and answering them assumes and intends facts.
Meaning and happiness are wrapped up in this tension between past and future, which is also a tension between the personal self and social others; which is also a tension between inner consciousness and outer things or spirit and body; which is also a tension between the ideal and the real; which is also a tension between the holy and the profane; and so on ad infinitum.
The tension of human nature/existence is what is. The terms or poles of that tension are constructs of that tension. They do not exist except as terms of the tension. If we were to attain them (or when we do), human existence ceases.
But it is a tension--which in modern parlance often connotes stress and uncertainty. And if we do not accept this tension as who we are and are to become, we feel the dis-ease of the stress and uncertainty. No permanence in life, no timeless truths, no unchangeable beliefs, no perfection, no enduring body or absolute spirit, no uninterpreted history and no eternal future, no nothing and no being, even no pure no.
Realizing that can be stressful and painful--but only if we are not accepting ourselves as tension, i.e. not entities or essences, and are gasping for and clinging to the terms or poles of the tension as though they are not constructs or realizations of the tension. but independent things out-there. But if we immerse ourselves in our tension, if see our selves and our world as relations, if we accept the dynamism, relationally, impermanence of existence and our own imperfection, we will encounter meaning and happiness.
The more we let go of things, of thoughts, of beliefs, seeing them as mere tools along the way, the more happy and meaningful we will be. The more we glory in our tension, relationships, and in-betweenness, the more we exist. But I know this is a life's project, that I will always be on the way, never quite there. But then that's the point, isn't it?
Some signs of being on the way that I can think of include:
- humility--being on the ground, absence of righteousness, identifying with the "losers," the "little ones," being a perpetual learner knowing that we do not know.
- inclusiveness--open to strangers, welcoming others, inviting the new; absence of fear and never appealing to fear or demonization.
- irony--sense of humor regarding self, others, the world, and our products, culture, nation, beliefs including religion, philosophy, and science.
- relationally--changing viewpoints, empathetic, trying not see things from all sides, not having sides except in a game; recognizing that we are all playing games and roles.
- transcendence--risking new adventures in thought and behavior; criticizing our beliefs and stances; ready to pass on intellectual, emotionally, spiritually, and corporeally.
One dying thought: As I age I realize more and more that I am approaching death. I think that is why aging is an opportunity for wisdom. (But of course even the young are aging if they think about it and thus have this opportunity for wisdom.)
I ask myself as I consider my passing on: "Can I, on my death bed or at the moment of a death dealing impact, laugh at my situation and my self with genuine mirth, with satisfaction in my power, my love, and my meaning in all its temporality. Can I here and now imagine that moment and say Amen--so be it."