Learning, to me, goes beyond understanding the mechanics of our environment. It includes the development of habits, such as introspection, critical thinking, and empathy. The moment we came screaming into this world, our brains started making sense of things. What is love? What is trust? What are other people?
Some of these things we learn not just by words or imitation, but through systems in our brain that have evolved to respond to particular experiences: seeing faces, experiencing touch, hearing the heartbeat of our mothers.
But as in any other category, we may learn the wrong things. Abuse destroys trust. Negligence withholds love. Separation stifles empathy. And over time, we need to reinforce our knowledge of love, trust, and empathy – like any other thing we've learned.
Yann Arthus-Bertrand's "Human" is a tour de force in exercising our empathy. Filmed in 60 countries, it is the result of interviews with more than 2,000 people. It showcases not only the diversity of humanity, but also the beauty of our planet through stunning aerial photography.
This is an intense work. It requires setting aside time and mental energy to take in the stories, which are often heartbreaking. You will hear the stories of people living in abject poverty, people who have lost their entire families to war, women who have been raped, killers who have been forgiven, and humans of all ages who have endured shameful prejudice.
Tales of heroic endurance and the relentless pursuit of happiness, education, justice – those are the most uplifting moments in the film. A film like this might risk falling into a kind of moral relativism, a mere celebration of diversity. But "Human" returns to the call for justice throughout.
One Indian man tells the story of how the victims of water shortages are helping to construct a twin tower with 76 swimming pools to be enjoyed by the wealthy. He says he is furious because the connection between inequality and its effects is so apparent. A destitute old woman yells at the camera, calling us all to account for ignoring the suffering of the poor.
In another scene in between interviews, we see a vast array of skyscrapers lit at night. From afar, they look gorgeous, an incredible show of light and architecture. Then the camera zooms into one of the buildings, and we see office cubicles, lonely workers, a soulless, sterile environment.
"Human" does not give us an answer to injustice, inequality, poverty, waste, war. It reminds us powerfully that there is a question here: If we care about one another as human beings, what do we do now?