Posted on

Civilized society

Civilized society
Civilized society
Dr. Wayne Willis

The cultural anthropology professor recognized the student raising her hand. “Dr. Mead, what is the earliest sign of civilization in a culture?” Dr. Mead tossed the question back to her and the class, “First, tell me what you think.” Students, one by one, made their guesses: a clay pot, a fishhook, a stone for grinding grain, a drawing of a bird, an arrowhead.

Dr. Mead said, “The correct answer is: a healed femur. No healed thighbone, the longest, strongest bone in the body that connects the hip to the knee, is found where the survival of the fittest reigns. You find skulls busted by clubs and bodies pierced by arrows, but no healed femurs. It was the law of the jungle that if you broke your leg, you died. You couldn’t run to safety. You became easy pickings for any four-legged or two-legged predator that came along.”

“What a healed femur means is that someone had mercy on you. Someone had to drag or carry you to safety. Someone had to do your hunting for you and bring you food and go to the river to get your water for about six weeks, until your broken leg healed. The practice of compassion is the first sign of civilization.”

Every newborn comes into the world a thorough-going egoist. Ego is the Greek pronoun for “I.” The newborn is all I. “I’m cold.” “I’m hot.” “I’m wet.” “I’m hungry.” “I’m soiled.” “I hurt.” “Help me!”

Some adults are “big babies” who haven’t outgrown that infantile stage. Life’s dominating principle is perennial self-interest.

A pandemic has a way of revealing what we are, whether we’re all about self, our individual rights and freedoms, or we can compassionately see those with a broken spirit or femur and offer a friendly ear or hand.