When does one no longer deserve to be called a “human being”?

Mehran Banaei

The most unpleasant part of my daily duties at work is when I have to attend a medical emergency at the gate when a flight arrives with a passenger on board in a critical condition. At airports, police and border officers are part of emergency responders who are required to attend the scene. My presence has the least priority among all who quickly show up. Thus, I stay out of the way and observe the situation. My involvement all depends on the outcome of the situation and what may transpire.

In my career, I have witnessed numerous situations where a passenger actually died during the flight or shortly after arrival. Usually witnessing this sad situation makes me psychologically dysfunctional for a few days.

The ubiquitous observation witnessed is that the paramedic team acts like a bunch of butterflies hovering over flower nectar. They are all over the patient trying to bring him/her back to life. One is engaged in CPR, another is measuring the vital signs, etc. Often every moment counts and could determine life or death. The paramedic team has no idea who the passenger is. What his or her religion, ethnicity or social status is, has no bearing on the task ought to be preformed. Yet, they act relentlessly like it is their own loved one before them. The efforts they make are indeed commendable. Their arduous actions are loud and clear, life is valuable and must be saved: “don’t you die on me”. Other secondary participants like me are staying aside observing with a grim look on our faces.

In many cases, the observer can tell the efforts of the medical team are not going too well, vital signs are dropping, and the patient is still unconscious and unresponsive. This is the moment that I always feel that to be a human is inadequate, and earnestly wish I was an angel with supernatural powers, could with the permission of the Divine heal and send off the revived person to his/her family. No doubt I am not the only one who feels that way. Who wouldn’t? It is the nature of human beings to help those who are in need, and we innately feel good when we do. That is indeed why many crooks and charlatans often con their victims by appeal to pity. Man is in essence noble with the potential to do evil. One can be a philanthropist, just as one could chose to be a con artist. Honourable or dishonourable actions are wilful choices that one makes.

The 13th century Persian poet and philosopher Saadi, has a famous saying which is inscribed at the entrance of the United Nations building in New York:

Of One Essence is the Human Race,
Thusly has Creation put the Base.
One Limb impacted is sufficient,
For all Others to feel the Mace.
The Unconcerned with Others’ Plight,
Are but Brutes with Human Face.

Saadi noted this trademark characteristic of human being so well, he continuously emphasized its importance through his poetry. But, was Saadi unable to see the dark side of human beings? That, we far from helping one another, often maliciously cause, contribute or capitalize on the misery of those who are in pain. There are other cases of reaction to emergency situations by different emergency responders that do the opposite. They severely injure a healthy and unarmed person, or as it is very prevailing in the United States and Israel nowadays, where the subject is instantly shot dead. The ambulance crew shows up last only to pick up the dead body. Contrary to the airport cases, here, their despicable actions demonstrates that human life has no value whatsoever. Race, ethnicity, or social status usually plays a major role. Taking life and putting the blame on the victim is the institutionalized state policy, so long as the officers involved can articulate the rationale behind their actions in accordance with the policy.

Saadi’s position on the interconnectivity of human community is clear. Collectively or individually, in uniform or out of uniform, if you are indifferent and have no sympathy for the pain and suffering of others, you are then unworthy to be called a human being. If we adopt his demarcation, what do we then call those who never show mercy, overwhelmed by hatred and greed who thrive on the misery of humanity, like the ethnic cleansers, the occupiers, the terrorists by profession disguised as good guys, the war mongers and war profiteers? All those who have no regard for the sanctity of life.

Being human is given, but keeping our humanity is a personal choice. So it is that one may see no sign of humanity where there are so many humans. If one repeatedly acts in a cruel manner or lacks compassion and apathy, having a mere exterior of human form would not necessarily establish his or her humanity. No human carnage can be justified by “following orders” or “sanctioned UN resolutions”. No heartless inhumane behaviour, masquerading by international laws which results in the destruction of environment, properties and human life, can ever be legitimized as mere “collateral damage”.

Interestingly, in making one of the two choices, being human comes naturally, on the contrary, being inhuman takes a lot of effort. It is like swimming against the current.



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