I’ve noticed a few posts making their rounds through the social Internet which read “List of things the world owes you.”
The list is blank.
Look, I get it. People really do need to stop waiting for the world to give them stuff and should go out and be beneficial members of society 1. From a purely naturalistic standpoint, in fact, these posts are pretty much correct. The world doesn’t owe us anything. If we’re fit enough we’ll be able to pass on our genes to the next generation. If not, well… sucks to be us. The world really could not care less if we are happy.
If you’re speaking about “the world” to reference this human construct we call “civilization,” however, the statement is dead wrong. Human societies do have obligations to loan certain things to their members. In fact, these obligations are what make civilization work. When the obligations are met, the whole is healthy and thrives. When they are not met this deficit causes the whole to become sick. We’ve seen this in our history with slavery, segregation, as well as with the struggle of #blacklivesmatter in the present day. The protests against the injustices of police brutality, segregation, and slavery 2 through our history are born because these obligations are not being met. And, looking at how our society is set up, it’s hard to argue with that point.
But why call them loans? A loan, after all, is something which needs to be paid back. It seems like a odd way to describe the obligations of society with language which explicitly calls for repayment.
But that’s the point. That which this society is obligated to loan us must be repaid – to those whom have yet to have these obligations met.
What is our society obligated to loan us?
It’s obligated to loan us an adult presence which will help shape and form us in healthy and upright ways by modeling the behavior which blesses others.
It’s obligated to pass on the wisdom and understanding which it has preserved from earlier generations.
It’s obligated to open up a space for creative expression and question-asking.
It’s obligated, as our Declaration of Independence states and the Constitution codifies, the freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 3.
And these things are loans. They must be repaid.
When we encounter people who do not have a positive adult presence in their lives, those of us who were afforded that loan are obligated to reach out and offer it as best we can.
When we have received a loan of wisdom and understanding we are obligated to repay it by using these tools in ways which build up the whole of our communities, and not only our own lives.
When we’ve been afforded space to explore who we are and ask uncomfortable questions we are obligated to repay that loan by affording space for others and listen to the uncomfortable questions of others.
When we are loaned the freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” we are obligated to repay that loan and free others to do the same – no matter what a person’s religion or skin color happens to be.
So, maybe when you next here, “The world doesn’t owe you anything.” You might want to reply, “Yes it does!” Then follow it up with, “And I will repay what has been given to me so others might live.”