Nothing That is Human is Alien: Maya Angelou and Terence
Terentius Lucanus was a Roman Senator who brought Terence to Rome as a slave. He took him under his wing and educated him and soon freed him out of his amazement of his abilities. Terence went onto become a famous playwright around 170 BCE. One of his famous quotes was:
“Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto,” or “I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.”
How can a man who was once enslaved by other human beings transcend his anger and come up with a quote implying forgiveness and linking the common ground between all people?
It’s not the first time and it certainly hasn’t been the last.
Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings , among 30 other books, was ridiculed as a child for being a selective mute for 6 years. Her mother would put her arm around her and say, “I know you’re not stupid or a moron like all the kids say you are. I know that one day you’ll be a great teacher. You’ll travel the world imparting wisdom.”
If you don’t know Maya Angelou, she is an African American woman who is a legend in her own time, a global renaissance woman teaching all around the world. She is also a religious person and in an interview she said that she takes it up as a difficult practice to see that we are children of God no matter what is coming out of our mouths or our actions. She has to see that even the members of the Ku Klux Klan are children of God too.
Note: If the word God triggers you, consider that we are all children of the earth or that we all inherently, deep down want the same thing.
What’s that? To be safe, secure, loved and feel like we belong.
When we take a moment to think about it, it’s really quite amazing how trapped we become in our fears and perceptions that others are alien to us and dangerous based upon a different color of skin, race, religion, class or sexual preference. What’s more amazing is that there is some justification for a right to harm others based on differences.
If we think about it, we want to hit people and make them suffer because they look different, talk different or believe something different. Really? That’s definitely not what we learned in kindergarten.
Actually, this isn’t really all that amazing. It’s automatic and what’s truly unfortunate is how trapped we are in our minds and how controlled we can be based on erroneous or mistaken beliefs we learn from parents, media or culture.
It’s time to recognize that while our differences make us unique as human beings and are worth honoring, fundamentally we are all woven from the same cloth and are all vulnerable as human beings.
If you want to engage in a practice that will help you move through your automatic bias when you see people that are different than you, practice saying what psychologist Philippe Goldin says, “Just like me.”
So if you notice a judgment or subtle tensing in your body when you see someone of different color, class, religion, or sexual preference or maybe a celebrity, your boss or your neighbor, take a breath and say, “just like me.” Remember that this is a person with vulnerabilities, dreams, and aspirations who also wants to be cared about, understood and belong.
Go ahead bring it into your day.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Goldstein, E. (2011). Nothing That is Human is Alien: Maya Angelou and Terence. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 25, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindfulness/2011/03/nothing-that-is-human-is-alien-maya-angelo-and-terence/