Many years ago, a student asked cultural anthropologist Margaret Meade a simple question; what was, in her opinion, the earliest sign of civilization.
You know, whether it was the discovery of fire, or the invention of the wheel. Or something of the sorts.
Her answer took him by surprise. She said the earliest sign of civilization was “a healed femur.”
You see, in the animal kingdom, where only the fittest survive, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, you cannot drink or hunt for food. No creature survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. You are eaten by predators long before that.
In the world of hunter-gatherers, a person with a fractured thigh bone would be thought of as useless and left to die.
But a femur that has healed is evidence that someone had taken the time to stay with the one who was injured, had bound up the wound, had carried the person to safety, and had hunted and gathered food for this injured person until their leg healed.
Someone had to provide care for another who couldn’t care for themselves.
Margaret Meade said that the evidence of compassion was the first sign of civilization.
We are only as strong as the weakest among us. That’s how it’s always been.
Do you know how we became the dominant species on the planet?
It’s not like we are the strongest, or the fastest out there. Far from it. We do not have extraordinary senses either. We cannot climb too high, we do not have an extraordinary set of teeth or claws. We are not venomous.
A lonely human, even with all the advantages of modern technology, would struggle to survive for long in a jungle, among all the savage beasts.
So, if it’s not our physical capabilities, what is it then that made us into such successful creatures?
Well… you see… we work together like no other animal on this planet. We work together so well that, in time, the other beasts learned to stay away from us, learned that killing a human was a bad thing, for many more humans would return to avenge the death of one of their own.
I’d say this is what sets us apart: it’s our intense urge to take care of one another.
It is our humanity, is it not? The emotions that allow you to care for another, or cry because they are gone, or hurt those who hurt the one you love.
Isn’t your ability to feel my pain, even though we are so different, something that makes you human?
I believe it is.
Truth be told, we are just one step above the beasts and one below the angels. And we must never, ever lose our ability to care for those around us, unless we wish to fall from grace like we never did before.
As long as we take care of those who cannot take care of themselves, we are a society.
If we lose this, we are condemning all of us to live in hell.
So no, this pandemic is not going to end human civilization. Far from it. Because we still take care of those who cannot take care of themselves, those who’d be too weak and fragile if we were to let them to fend for themselves.
We are still very much a civilization, no matter what others would like to tell you.
One step above the beasts, one below the angels.
Not perfect, but not broken beyond repair either.