June 16th, 2024

What we are makes us humans, not what we do

By Lethbridge Herald on January 18, 2023.


 “What do you mean I need a vaccination certificate?” How did we make some people feel picked on? Some men are angry also because their life experience doesn’t count any more because of climate change or new technology. It is infuriating when our comfort zone is challenged. They feel personally attacked. I think it touches on the question of “Who am I?” It’s natural to resent being told what to do. We are humans so we think before we act: it’s the way for a human to be responsible for one’s action. A wise man on the mountaintop meditating but doing nothing is not a comic strip figure. It’s the mark of a human.  

I failed the test in 1972. Before being expelled from the Republic of South Africa,  I was detained in solitary for three days in the immigration detention centre at Jan Smuts Johannesburg Airport.  

Then the country was governed by racist laws. No one told me why I was kept there.   It was an existential crisis where I was alone and had no way to deal with the forced isolation.  

I desperately needed to know “What am I doing here and why?” I had nothing like “serenity to accept things I can not change.”  The thought never occurred to me that in a crisis like that as a human I could still sit and think. After all, thinking is the most powerful tool for a human. Only humans do art, science, philosophy, and religion. They are all mental activities, not physical.

 Nelson Mandela knew who he was. He had the most productive years of his life in prison. He had time to think. During 27 years of imprisonment he was able to draw up mentally a blue-print of the future South Africa. 

Once president, he tried to realize what he drafted in his mind. Thus, he helped to bring in the new South Africa without serious bloodshed. His time to think was the most productive time. But me? I was nearly driven to insanity in a mere three days. I was so anxious that I could not think. It didn’t occur to me that thinking constructively, creating and imagining were what make us uniquely humans.  

When we appear to be doing nothing, our mind can still be working productively.  Think of workers in hi-tech industries.  Digital technologies are the result of some people spending lots of time thinking.  Thinking beyond mere reflex is what makes humans one of a kind. On the other hand, men have been conditioned to think of their worth by their actions. We have to realize that such a way to measure the worth of a person is no longer workable. A fewer number of people are required to produce more. Good management is measured by how efficiently they fire people.  

It is important for us to affirm that we are fully humans no matter how little we do.  Doing less should not diminish the value of human beings. You have to realize that a man with a job is a relatively recent notion.  Aristocracy valued land ownership, not work, as recent as a century ago.  

 There was a time when a woman with no outside work was a status symbol. My mother grew up in an upper middle class household at the end of 19th-century Japan. She never learned to cook or clean the house. I never invited my school friends to my house, ashamed of our dirty, messy house. At birth she was engaged to be married to a son of another wealthy family, and was raised like a princess. She played piano and learned flower arrangements. She only bought the best quality things. She was so foolish to fall in love with a penniless seminary student who came to live in the family as a private tutor for spoiled young women.  She never learned to live like a person in poverty, even with a preacher’s salary. 

I am happy the days of such a society divided by class are gone. Nevertheless,  it means there were times when some people had lived without work and yet were accepted. I am in no way advocating a return to the world of Jane Austen (“Pride and Prejudice”) or Victor Hugo (“Les Miserables”). However, we are facing a new world where all the work is done by intelligent machines. We do the thinking and make machines that do the work.  

We are precious not so much because of what we do but because of what we are.

Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui


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Great story, but what has climate change have to do with it.

pursuit diver

I like the story! Canada has been slowly fracturing with some considering separation while others in special interest groups feel it is their rights to walk all over the rights of others.
Our PM is too busy on his worldwide tours trying to impress other leaders, instead making a fool of himself, all while our country is separating or fracturing.
He scolded the Japanese PM for asking for LNG from Canada, even though Alberta had pushed for it with the PM prior. He failed to show respect to the SK Premier, showing up unannouced in SK to show case Vital minerals, a company supplying minerals for EV’s. He is on a mission to tear apart Canada.
The ME society has found other ME’s to form WE groups, and those WE groups have no respect of the others.
I noticed the trend begin over 20 years ago when it was all about ME.