September 8, 2015 | By Christopher Dee
We are often told to do good, that some higher power is keeping score of our earthly actions. But we less often ask ourselves: would we still do the same if we were not told to? Should my belief in Christ, or someone else’s belief in karma or Allah or nirvana or evolutionary biology, be the sole driving force behind the desire to do right by our fellow man? If we, for the next few moments, strip away the idea of anything beyond what we can observe, is there still room to argue for kindness, for decency, for inclusion? I think yes.
These questions were initially prompted by my internship with the Amrit Foundation of India. Amrit’s goal is simple: to be inclusive and to level the playing field for people regardless of caste, creed, or challenge. The message comes easily to me; inclusion is a noble goal by my standards. But it is much more difficult to articulate why inclusion is necessary without evoking the stipulations of a higher power. Why should we wait for the slower runner, the lower scorer?
The reason for me lies in the fact of our interconnectedness. Look around you: the air you inhale was exhaled by another, and vice-versa. The food you consume, down to its bare ingredients, is the fruit of hundreds of hands. Look within you: the atoms in every cell were once part of another iteration of life. The mitochondrial DNA of each living human has its origin in one single individual who lived 100,000 years ago. The very substance of our being has been and will be part of something or someone else. This is a fundamental truth.
Even the way we act is evidence for interconnectedness. Our actions involve others: speech gets a point across, writing explains the world around and inside us, art conveys ideas that words cannot contain. The mere fact of having a name implies that we are called by others. The necessity of involving someone else in any human endeavor is again proof of our interconnectedness.
In short, we are part and parcel of each other.
Exclusion denies this truth. Every act of exclusion – racism, sexism, and all these other “isms” – feeds on arbitrary divisions. Racial partitions are mere constructs that are blurred when realize the genetic spectrum that describes humanity. Religion and non-religion, like sexuality, are individual experiences, not categories of right and wrong. By “otherizing” people we draw meaningless lines and deny the fact of interconnectedness.
And each of us has been a victim of exclusion in some way or another. I felt its burn when some classmates questioned explicitly how I as a Filipino, an ethnicity they associated with domestic helpers, could surpass them academically. In this case, ignorance fed exclusion. Even someone who has never faced sexism, racism, or other outright forms of exclusion has felt the sting of rejection, the accidental insult, or even the realization of one’s own limits.
By our very nature inclusiveness makes more sense than exclusiveness. Someone with a disability cannot reach her or his full potential if excluded. Extrapolated to the population, we as a species will not be able to reach our full potential if inclusiveness is not lived.
Amrit’s mission combats exclusion on the arbitrary lines of disability, particularly, children with intellectual and developmental challenges. The thrust is towards recognizing that a “normal” life (because normal doesn’t quite exist) is not the only way to live in fulfillment and dignity. Indeed there are seven billion equally valid and valuable ways to live, and Amrit works to uphold this truth.
Inclusion lays claim to our interconnectedness. Leveling the playing field – for people with special needs or anyone marginalized in any way – is a proclamation that we see each other as people. Each act of inclusiveness gives heed to our shared humanity. Inclusiveness affirms that we, like those with whom we share this earth, are intertwined in the weave of life.
Inclusion is easier said than done, I know. But inclusion is an imperative, demanded not just by any religion or humanist philosophy, but by the very fact that we are human.
About the author: Christopher volunteers at the Amrit Foundation of India and is a recent graduate in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University. He is interested in negotiating the junction between medicine and global health as a means of bringing care to those marginalized by society. As a Filipino-Canadian, Chris is interning in India to gain insight into solutions to health problems of the developing world.