Some years back I wrote a poem called: Who do We Belong To? At the core of this poem is what my old philosophy lecturer emphasised to us students: it’s the questions that really matter in life. In other words, find the right questions and learn to live within them, more than always pressing for and demanding answers – answers which may actually mislead and disappoint. That said, if we are ever to come close to getting authentic answers, then it will largely depend on whether we have asked / are asking the right questions.
In this regard, what then is perhaps the biggest question of all? What is the most important question that any human being can ask? Remembering that we are not so much concerned with the answers, perhaps many folk would suggest that the key life question is: “Who am I?” Possibly closely followed by: “Where did I come from?” and “Where is my life going?” Another key and troubling question is: “What will happen when I die – is there an afterlife or is death the end?”
For me, and this might be a personal opinion, the core question of all follows on from what we can say is the reality of being human: we are a social species. Note that this assertion is not based on any religious faith perspective but rather on an empirical observation of life. Human beings are naturally sociable, so much so that loneliness can be a killer. Perhaps the worst torture of all is solitary confinement – which can cause people to lose their sanity completely. “Solitary” by Albert Woodfox is a grim account of this, and hugely worth reading.
What then is my ‘biggest question’ of all? Who do we belong to?
You will note that I haven’t written: “Who do I belong to?”, because that misses the point of our true human nature. Who do we belong to, seems to me to be the better question, and it is for me the best and biggest question that we should try to ask. Note also, the key word – belong – this suggests relationship which again is at the very heart of what it means to be human.
I suppose I should now refrain from suggesting any answers! However, let me suggest some possible responses.
Some folk would answer my question by saying: “It’s obvious! I belong to myself. Nobody else has any right to tell me what to do or think.” Perhaps this might be the commonest response in our largely secular society today? In this response, people maintain that, for example, their body is their own property. If they want to smoke and risk cancer or an early death – well, that’s their right. If they want to get tattooed all over – again, it’s their right. This common but – to me – selfish response clearly negates the ‘we’ aspect of my question.
Another common response to my question might be: “I belong to my family or ethnic group.” While this surely posits a wider and more outgoing vision, it surely allows for such things as war and competition for scarce resources. After all, my tribe is everything. Hitler presumably loved his German people and was prepared to commit genocide to give them ‘room for life’. Attitudes such as “Make America great again” and “England for the English” are – I think – sad and narrow minded nationalisms which automatically exclude other societies, even to the point of justifying such evils as racism and slavery. I suspect that if most people were honest, this attitude would really be their modus operandi in life.
Some folk might respond: “We belong to humanity”. This, it seems to me, is a much more socially responsible attitude which encompasses all peoples and avoids the errors of nationalism and tribal conflicts. Nowadays, many would adjust this position to: “We belong to creation” – allowing all creatures some value and right to their own existence. People who own this life stance can be very loving and inclusive in their behaviours, having respect for diversity and our precious natural world. You also don’t need to be in any way religious to hold this belief.
Another response might be: “We belong to God.” Hmm.
What do you think? Is there a bigger question than my suggestion, and if so, what? Maybe that’s the question???