Except, perhaps, when we hear news of the British royal family, inherited purpose isn’t something we think about often. More often, we think of purpose as something we must mold and create for ourselves, rather than as something we inherit or must accept.
Yet the stories of people we admire are stories of people whose lives reflect a deep understanding that there are certain purposes we inherit as a part of our humanity, and who with courage fulfilled the responsibilities of those purposes. The purposes that Martin Luther King Jr. inherited and fulfilled through his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement are the same purposes that Nelson Mandela inherited and fulfilled through his position as leader of his nation, and are the same purposes that Toni Morrison inherited and fulfilled through her writing. These are the same purposes the royal family, our lawmakers, educators, musicians, athletes and all of us inherit as humans – to defend and speak out for the marginalized, to assert the dignity of all humans and to challenge others to do the same.
There are other purposes we all have, too, and the responsibilities of fulfilling these purposes may look different depending on our circumstances. As a citizen of a democratic nation, I have a responsibility to remain informed of the state of my country and to use my vote to support what is just and moral. As someone living comfortably in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, I have a responsibility to be mindful of the impact of my consumption as climate change continues to disproportionately affect the lives of those living in poverty. As a human with a unique set of experiences and understandings I have a responsibility to make use of the unique qualifications I have for empathy and encouragement, yet also to know that as humans we are educable in empathy. So through life and art I must always seek to learn how to enlarge my capabilities for empathy.
Ultimately, fulfilling our inherited purposes is about upholding collective truths about ourselves through what we say and how we move within our worlds. My favorite poets – Rabindranath Tagore, Hafez and Chance the Rapper – echo over and over the truth that as humans we are both victims and architects of great tragedy, but, so too, can we be victims and architects of great beauty and joy. Expressions of this truth are not limited to poetry; it can be expressed through other mediums of art, it can be expressed in sports and it can be expressed through affirmations and acknowledgments of what is good and true in people and nature.
Fulfilling the purposes that we inherit as a part of our humanity reminds me of a conversation I once had with a friend about poetry. My friend told me that you can’t properly read poetry if you don’t speak it out loud while you read it. Otherwise, he said, you will miss out on the rhythms and cadences of the poem: If you don’t speak poetry out loud while you read it, you miss out on the poetry of the poem.
There is a poetry to existence. It is in the tips of bare brown tree branches swimming against the sapphire sky at twilight like elkhorn coral in the ocean. It is in the thin and silent trail of an airplane piercing through a lonesome and empty blue winter sky. It is in the gentleness of dusk blossoming over Horsebarn Hill. It is in the interconnectedness of all human lives and it is in the immeasurable value of life itself.
It’s not enough to just recognize this poetry. We must speak it out loud, through our lives and actions, through our attitudes, our hopes and our aspirations. Only then will we begin to feel the rhythms and cadences of this life that we have inherited.
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Sharon Spaulding is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.