Common Human – musings of a would-be reformer

Common Human. The phrase brings to mind a different image to each person, depending on the culture, the economy that one identifies oneself with. To me, it is India.


Somewhere in South India. May, the hottest month of the year. Afternoon. Every surface exudes heat. The very air one breathes seems to shimmer a few degrees short of burning. I walk down the street on some mission. Carefully avoiding getting hit by anything or anyone. I wish it weren’t that hot or that I were safely back home, sipping cool coconut water or buttermilk, A/C or ceiling fan on full blast. Proudly thinking to myself that I am conserving resources by taking public transport and walking, how I am a common human, taking the road oft taken by the other common humans. Crowds everywhere. It suddenly strikes me – to me, this is a one off occurrence. To most of the others out at this hottest time of the hottest day of the hottest month in one of the hottest countries in the world – the woman selling fruits by the wayside, the man transporting cans of something tied to his bicycle, the vastly more well-off people clearly out for work on buses, mopeds, scooters, bikes – this is their everyday life. Their livelihood. 

I realize that if you have to pick an image of a common human, it shouldn’t be me. Try picking someone closer to the man on his bicycle and you would be closer to the mark. After all, India has more people living in extreme poverty than all of Africa put together. And this man, my common man, isn’t even one of those.


It is at this moment that I have an epiphany. What does this person care about the greater good? The environmental 4R’s of reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle, what? Yet, he unconsciously follows most of it. Reduce? Check. He doesn’t have much anyway. Reuse? Check. He doesn’t have the means to use and throw and buy again. Repurpose? Check. He’ll use each thing for as many purposes as he can before throwing it away. Recycle? Ah, we’ve hit our first roadblock. How does he identify what goes for recycling and how, when he can barely sign his own name? Where does he get the time or energy or inclination to do the “right thing”? Can you blame him when he doesn’t care to do much for the world that hasn’t given him much?


Give the man education and opportunity to get himself an easier life with more time to think about the environment. To understand the environmental issues facing his country and the world at large. By education, I mean the 3R’s of Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic; by education, I mean the 4R’s of the environment; by education, I mean a means to improve his lot in life, to enable him to get more into his life, and to give back even more to the earth. By education, I also mean, teaching the latter 4R’s to the ones who are more than proficient in the first ones.


Think of the environment? Think of the Common Human.

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