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  • Chris Kent

"Under the Heavens..."


It is human nature to try to define something. We are a society that loves to label and categorize – be it things or people. When it comes to people we often label them and categorize them by such things as what language they speak, their nationality, their societal and/or family belief systems.

And while it’s true that we tend to label other things and people, guess what? We also have a predilection for attaching labels to ourselves. We tend to define ourselves as, for example, a “black man,” a “Native American woman, an “Asian person,” etc. There is nothing inherently bad or wrong with this. But the fact is that before you can classify yourself as a “white” or “black” man or woman, you first have to be aware and recognize that you are a “man” or a “woman;” and antecedently, a “human being.”

Your humanity is your defining characteristic as a member of the human race. Everything else you might add are simply adjectives that modify or describe the noun (‘human being’) – but without the noun, there is nothing to modify or describe. In the same way that a tree or flower no matter what its particular species remains, at its core, a “tree’” and a “flower,” so, too, do we as human beings, no matter what our particular race, gender, religion or vocation, remain, at our core, human beings.

And while each of us is an individual, as part of the totality of the human race we need to recognize and understand that none of us exist in a vacuum. We do not exist independently of other people, but rather we live perpetually in a process of relationship with others. We also share a wonderful symbiotic relationship with the world itself.

Labeling and categorizing might be fine for products or commodities such as clothing, food, electronic devices, etc. – but they’re not so fine when it comes to us as human beings. Labels can define our attitude towards people, which in turn can lead to such things as hatred and bigotry. Labels become divisive or “walls of separation,” resulting in the segmentation of different groups. One only has to look at the current upheaval not only in this country but also in many other countries today over certain groups of people to get a very clear picture of such attitudes in action. Labeling and categorizing can even define our own attitude about ourselves. What can each of us, as members of the human race do about this situation? While the problem may seem to be a complex one, the solution itself may be much simpler.

Many martial artists, if they look at other arts, spend a great deal of their time looking to see what is different about it. When I was training in JKD, my teacher, Dan Inosanto used to tell me, “Chris, when you look at other martial arts look for the similarities and commonalities rather than the differences, because the similarities are the common threads or common denominators that run through all arts. Those are the most important things.”

In the same manner, it seems that oftentimes many people look at other people and spend much of their time focusing on how they are different from themselves rather than ways in which they are the same. Instead, we can make a conscious choice to look at people not as members of a particular race, nationality or sect, but instead simply as human beings. We can to look for ways to connect with other people rather than focus on differences. We do not have to deny differences -- we respect them -- but direct our energies and work towards our commonality as human beings and the removal of artificial barriers such as nationality, ethnicity and class structure.

In addition, we can, as I said earlier, recognize the fact that we live perpetually in a process of relationship with others and that we all also share a relationship with the world itself. In his book, The Philosophies of Asia, noted Zen scholar and author Alan Watts wrote –

“In the same way, when the ocean has a wave on it, the wave is not separate from the ocean, Every wave on the ocean is the whole ocean wav-ing… And so, the “ocean of being” waves every one of us, and we are its waves, but the wave is fundamentally the ocean.”

Each of us is much more than our sex or our ethnic or melatonin content – much more than our religious or political affiliation – much more than our profession or educational background. The ultimate reality of what we are is that we are human beings, part of the human race. At the end of Bruce Lee’s Hong Kong interview with Pierre Berton, Berton asks Lee, “Do you still think of yourself as Chinese or yourself as North American?”, to which Bruce responds, “You know what I want to think of myself? As a human being. I don’t want this to sound like, As Confucius Say,” but under the sky, under the heaven, man, there is but one family. It just so happens that people are different.”

So the next time you find yourself being asked a question such as, ”Who are you?” or “How do you think of yourself?” maybe you might try telling the person asking the question, “I am a human being.”


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