The term ‘The Human Gap’ was coined by the founder of the Club of Rome, Aurelio Peccei, an Italian who was the CEO and Chair of Fiat Motor Co in the 1960s to 1970s. He used it to describe the distance between what human beings know in their minds and their behavioural patterns. His conclusion followed his disappointment with the lack of behavioural change following the sale of millions of copies of the Limits to Growth Report which warned about the climate changes we are witnessing today, 52 years ago. Gregory Bateson, a contemporary of Peccei and philosopher, defined the Human Gap as the difference between how humans think and how nature works.
Looking around us today with the multiple planetary emergencies around us: climate change; ecosystems destabilisation; inequalities, conflicts and wars; and much more, these are outcomes of this Human Gap. We know that the global socio-economic and political systems today are destructive of the very ecosystems and human relationships we depend on to live.
So what should be done to close this Human Gap? A growing realisation is dawning on those wrestling with these issues, including my colleagues at the CoR, and transformation activists across the globe, that the key to closing this gap is to acknowledge that we have lost our way as a human race. We need to learn anew what it means to be Human.
To be human is to be interconnected and interdependent with others within the web of life. This essence is wired deeply in us. We are at our best when in supportive loving relationships. In Africa, we refer to this understanding as Ubuntu, but all indigenous communities across the globe have expressions of this essence. It is this wisdom that enabled our common ancient ancestors to evolve those aeons ago in the dense wilderness of Africa and to learn from Mother Nature how to survive and thrive.
The philosophy of Ubuntu, wired into us has at its core a value system with three elements:
Respect for human dignity - self-respect and self-worth and respect for others simply because they are human. Racism, sexism, and all forms of discrimination are dehumanising for both the perpetrators and the abused.
Fairness is inborn in us to enable us to promote social justice and harmony
Compassion is understood as ‘love in action’ because in Ubuntu there is no ‘ I’ without the ‘We’, - human beings are inextricably linked to one another within the web of life. Care and mutual support are wired into us.
Archbishop Mpilo Tutu whose ministry was devoted to healing, had this to say about Ubuntu:
“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened by that others are able and good, for he/she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he/she belongs in a greater whole, and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”
Why does this matter? And what can we do about this human gap?
It matters because only a return to our wholeness as humanity can power us to emerge out of the multiple planetary emergencies upon us. It is essential to invest the time and energy to return to whom we are. We have to return to ‘being indigenous again’ to save ourselves from committing suicide by waging war on nature, as The UN SG, Antonio Guterres said two years ago.
Neuroscience also tells us that humiliation is the worst trauma to visit upon a person. That trauma then gets transmitted from generation to generation, with abused becoming abusers, until the cycle is interrupted by healing interventions at the personal, family, community, and wider society levels. Cast your mind to the continuing impact of the legacy of colonial conquest and slavery. Cast your mind to the impact of ongoing male domination and its impact on family life, especially combined with racism and material dispossession.
Where should we start? It starts with each of us here today. All of us have been impacted by living in an unjust world where human dignity is undermined. Fairness is traded for wealth extraction by the powerful minority at the expense of the majority of humanity. We are all witnesses to the suicidal war against nature.
As psychologists, you are well placed to become wounded healers of our human family. We desperately need you to acknowledge this Human Gap in your own lives. Acknowledgement is a prerequisite to starting healing conversations at the personal, professional and political levels. We all need to have a higher consciousness of how we live the core values that define our humanity: respect for human dignity; promotion of fairness and social justice; and compassion in action every day. Let’s return to our essence and support one another to live out Ubuntu at all levels of our lives.