Recently-Discovered Mayan Civilization Teaches Us Something About Ethics

Ancient Mayan ruins (screenshot from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-23009855)

Ancient Mayan ruins (screenshot from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-23009855)

The BBC News reports that archaeologists from the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts have found an ancient, 54-acre Mayan civilization buried so deep in the rainforest of Mexico that it took three weeks for scientists to arrive at it.

In an age where there is so much emphasis on what is known and what can be proved — from telephone records to equations that calculate the distance of stars millions of light years away — this story of the Mayan civilization reminds us that there is still so much that we don’t know. Sometimes we forget that little over 100 years ago, theorists and scientists believed that our universe had always existed in its current state, that it was static. Hubble’s discovery of the red shift helped to debunk this theory, and we now believe that the universe is expanding, until the next big discovery shows us how far from the mark our theories have been.

The idea that we don’t know as much as we think we do doesn’t only have ramifications for science and archaeology, though; it can also teach us something about the way we interact with each other. Too often we make snap judgments about the people around us, forgetting that we don’t know their stories. Even if we think we know their stories, we forget that the lived experience is different from experience narrated and that we can never fully know another’s experiences until we have lived them ourselves.

There is so much that we don’t know, so much that we will never know. If I can remember this when I am annoyed by my coworkers, my family, or that idiot driver on the road, I will be better equipped not only to postpone my often-flawed analysis of those around me, but to err on the side of mercy rather than judgment.

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