“No man is an island, entire of itself.
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
These words from John Donne’s most famous ‘Meditation XVII’ succinctly sum up the idea of how each one of us is “involved in mankind” as a whole. Increasingly we live in an interconnected world where ‘interdependence’ and ‘globalisation’ are terms commonly bandied about. Modern technology and communications may have made this truth more evident but the idea itself is an ancient one. Perhaps it’s earliest recorded mention is in this Sanskrit verse from the ‘Upanishads’…
“ayaṁ bandhurayaṁ nēti gaṇanā laghucētasām
udāracaritānām tu vasudhaiva kuṭumbakam ||”
( Simply translated it says~ ‘ The discrimination that says “this one is a relative; this other one is a stranger” is for the mean-minded. For those who are known as magnanimous, the entire world constitutes but one family.)
This understanding of our common need for each other was considered one of the attributes of the individual who had attained the highest level of spiritual progress. Even in our modern world the truly enlightened soul is one who’s vision is an extension of this ancient concept. To quote just one, Mahatma Gandhi, “Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.”
It’s an understanding of human life that grows on you. My mother-in-law in her home grown wisdom would always say ‘your destiny is never yours alone—seven other fates are linked to yours, each partaking of their share in the providence apportioned to you.’ Truly our interests, our activities, our life-goals are so interwoven with others that in helping others with their concerns we benefit ourselves as well, even if this was never our intention to begin with. It’s the good ‘karma’ that comes back to you.
Too often the problems of our world arise from the misconception that many individuals, communities, even nations labour under—the conviction that they don’t need the others except probably to exploit them; when they begin to act as ‘islands unto themselves.’ Humanity needs greater doses of ‘compassion’ as espoused by the Dalai Lama. “Today’s world requires us to accept the oneness of humanity. In the past, isolated communities could afford to think of one another as fundamentally separate. Some could even exist in total isolation. But nowadays, whatever happens in one region eventually affects many other areas. Within the context of our new interdependence, self-interest clearly lies in considering the interest of others.” This alone can be the basis for a universal ethical system, of our ‘being human’