Civilization 101 or 2 or 3
During the Olympics the announcers offered tidbits of history and mentioned “the civilized world” a couple times which made me wonder who decided who is civilized and who isn’t. No one ever called and asked me if I consider myself civilized or not, but I’ve always assumed with the arrogance of one born in what’s considered a technologically advanced, developed country that of course I am civilized. But what makes it so?
The dictionary defines civilization as “peoples considered to have attained a high social development” which explains nothing. What is “high social development” and who decides who has it? Are we more civilized than say 100 years ago or are we simply more technologically advanced? Do advances in science equal civilization?
Living in the United States where education is offered freely, I think we are more open to ideas and advancements because we receive messages from society telling us that ideas, science, technology are good and to be sought after. Definitely, we have reams of knowledge at our disposal with which to make informed decisions, but are we more civilized than, say when Jesus walked the earth? I think not. If a person is going to envy his neighbor or sleep with another man’s wife, he can do it yesterday, today and tomorrow. Doesn’t matter what year it is. Thoughts and actions such as murder, rape, pillage and burn haven’t disappeared and maybe they haven’t even declined.
Maybe social development equals moral decline. For instance, does a “high social development” mean we accept without debate the consequences of controversial subjects such as abortion, assisted suicide, gay marriage, or stem cell research on our society? Those types of issues tend to create intense debates between church and state. Taking one step further, does religion imply civilized? I think not. Many cultures with strict religious beliefs are not considered “civilized” while other countries, considered civilized have taken scary actions. The Spanish Inquisition and witch burning jumps into mind making me shudder. If we’re sliding backwards morally, are we losing our civility? And who defines those pesky morals anyway? I know where my morals come from, but I don’t usually ask where other people found theirs.
I think civilization has little to do with social development. People are the same today as a thousand years ago with good and bad impulses which they may or may not act upon depending on their morals and self control. I think technology is a gift from God and as with any other gift, we can use it for good or evil. So then, what makes us civilized?
The thoughts kept running in convoluted circles in my head until I stopped to ponder what makes a person uncivilized. My first thought was that anyone who kills another without remorse is labeled uncivilized, a savage. Killing another without remorse means that no value is placed upon the other person’s life. It’s as easy as that. It’s not science, technology, ideas, morals, finance, or religion. Civilized means valuing human life and working to preserve your own life and other’s lives. Civilized means jumping up to open a door or help a person across the street because you are able and willing. Civilized is the son or daughter who cares for their aging parents despite physical, emotional, or financial hardships because the parents have value. Civilized defines the Red Cross valiantly trying to assist people around the world struck by tragedy. Civilized means sharing with your neighbor because you have an extra can of green beans and they have a need. Civilized creates multitudes of volunteer programs at hospitals and hugs for the kid down the street who scraped her knee and her mom isn’t right there. Civilized means sitting next to the person who argues the opposite side of a hot button issue such as abortion or gay marriage and trying to connect without devaluing their beliefs.
Am I civilized? I’d like to believe that I am. I’d also like to believe that by valuing the people around me, I’m helping humankind along the ragged, swirvy path of life in my miniscule way. When I think of the many diverse, wonderful and wise people I’ve had the privilege to meet and interact with along the way, I believe that civilization is a living, growing, changing entity that stretches around the world bypassing culture, religion and financial considerations.
Want to come to my house for tea and good discussion? We can all be civilized together.
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