What Makes a Civilization?

April 2, 2020
Reading time: 3 minutes


The coronavirus continues to spread globally, and as the epidemic surges, nationwide quarantine mandates continue. Non-essential businesses are closed, and the only companies continuing to operate fully are those that are required for human care—healthcare, grocery and supply stores, shipping and delivery services.

We’re living in a time in which the objective of our entire country has shifted from profit to caring for people. Seemingly overnight. It might be a new idea to some that the health of a nation truly relies on the health of its people, but this is an ancient principle supported by all kinds of sociological and anthropologic studies. The human race has survived, thrived, and evolved solely because of the way humans—even ancient ones—cared for each other. Especially those in need.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead was once asked what she considered to be the first evidence of human civilization. While many thought she would cite the evidence of tools, remains of religious artifacts or practices, or even signs of self-governance, her answer had almost nothing to do with producing. She said the first evidence of civilization was a human thigh bone with a healed fracture found in a 15,000-year-old archaeological site.

A broken bone that healed? What does that have to do with civilization?

Mead continued saying that for a primitive person to survive a broken femur bone, they would have had to have been cared for over a long period for the bone to heal fully. This means that others must have provided shelter, protection, food, and drink over an extended period of time for this kind of healing to be possible. Thus, Mead, one of the most notable anthropologists in history, declared that the first indication of human civilization is “care over time.” And not just care for anyone, but care for one who is broken and in need—evidenced by that fractured thigh bone that was healed.

We have widely, and suddenly, returned to this model. As a nation, we have all aligned around the common goal of caring for one another. As we all continue to stay home, we willingly let go of the privileges and the resources that we have come to rely on in service of saving lives. We are no longer only thinking about ourselves or our families because we simply cannot.

We are remembering that we are only as strong as the weakest among us. We are only as healthy as the sickest among us and that by caring for those in need, we strengthen ourselves in the process.
The teachings of Kabbalah share that there is no separation, on a spiritual level, between people. We are all innately and energetically connected. The idea of separateness comes from ego. In Kabbalah, this is known as the desire to receive for the self alone. We break this negative cycle every time we choose to share, love, give and offer kindness in radical ways.

Our humanity is the community that we are all apart of— we add up to the sum of our parts and we share a responsibility to each other. We share the responsibility of making the world a better place, regardless of the G-d we pray to or the things we believe in. It is of the utmost importance that we understand how essential our community is to each of us. And not just when we find ourselves in a global health crisis.

When one person feels excluded or uncared for, the entire fabric of the community begins to unravel. We begin to blame, divide, and isolate. This creates an illusion of separateness, and before we know it, we’ve said an unkind word to someone, or behind their back, when really that was unnecessary. We took an unkind action. We created chaos and pain. The good news is, the first step toward repairing our community is incredibly simple, it’s immediate and free, and we can all do it at any time.

Care for each other. Offer this care even when you don’t want to, offer it when you resist it, or are even afraid of giving. Care for those you judge as undeserving, care for those you love, care for everyone when you have the opportunity to do so. It doesn’t just make us kind or generous; it makes us civilized.

As we continue to navigate this uncertain time, I invite you to lean even deeper into your humanity. Notice how each day you are given opportunities to care for others and notice how often you shy away from that chance. Let us all ask ourselves how we can offer and share even more. How we can allow this time to redefine the way we relate to each other. How can this experience teach us? What ways of being can we leave behind, and what new ways of relating can we take with us?

How can we care for each other as intensely as we are right now, even when we find ourselves in joy and prosperity? That’s the kind of world I want to live in.

What does radical care mean to you? How can you offer even more attention to those in your community during this time?

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  1. Great wisdom. True we change our thought we change our world. Kindness above all.

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