The Japanese pronunciation for the word 'things' and 'someone' is the same: Monoもの.
That in a culture so conscious about the play of language to create puns and riddles, confusions and ambiguity, I do not see this as a coincidence.
To consider Things and People the same seem rather heartless. Yet if we look at the word for the 'thing-mono' 物, it's actually a Kanji made up of 牛 and 勿, the left being a 'cow'(symbolising herds), the right the pronunciation of the word in Chinese (which is one of the 5 ways of Kanji design: category + sound) So it most probably implied our most priced possessions in the days: our herds.
Hence, we could see that the Things that this 'Mono' is referring to actually have lives.
On the other hand, if we consider the Shinto / animism tract's believe that all things in the universe have souls, then a rock and a pond, a tree and a flower, a cow and a dog, would not be so different after all.
But what about a cow and a human?
In the Christian lineage, humans are in a totally different class, by the rationale that human was created on a separate day from the rest of the living things in the process of creation, and, of course, in the image of god himself. On the contrary, in the Darwinian view, Homo Sapiens are but the fittest of many other homo genuses that ended up dominating the planet, or so it seems. Yet if we look at the following chart, we would find that we champion in neither the population nor biomass camp:
|Bacteria total||4 quadrillion quadrillion||1,000,000|
|Ants(many species)||10 billion billion||3,000|
|Marine fish(many species)||800-2,000|
|Cattle(Bos taurus)||1.4 billion||520|
|Humans(Homo sapiens)||7 billion||350|
|Antarctic krill(Euphausia suberba)||500 trillion||150|
|Sheep(Ovis aries)||1.1 billion||65|
|Domestic chickens(Gallus gallus domesticus)||18.6 billion||40|
|Great whales(10 species)||3 million||20|
|Elephants(2 species)||0.5 million||2|
Sources: World Atlas of Biodiversity (2002) by B. Groombridge and M.D. Jenkins; FAOSTAT, United Nations; "Biomass (ecology)," Wikipedia
Credits: Jonathan Loh / Zoological Society of London - WWF International; Bill Chappell and Alyson Hurt / NPR
Last but not least, in the Taoist text Tao De Jing 道德經, a passage reads: "天地不仁，以萬物為芻狗；聖人不仁，以百姓為芻狗。" which would translate to "Heaven and Earth are not humane, And regard the myriad things as straw dogs; The sage is not humane, And regards all the people as straw dogs." (Translated by A. Charles Muller. First Translation: July, 1991)
This passage has been one that I found very difficult to digest. To observe the tracks behind myself I find it not embarrassing to call myself a humanitarian. Yet, this text which I respect so dearly suggests that being humane is not in line with the 'Dao', the path, the way...
Is it trying to tell us that one should not be obsessed with life, for life is but yet another natural occurrence? Is it trying to tell us that one should not see oneself as 'kind', for such motivation ultimately stems from a delusional ego?
I do not have an answer that I have come to terms with. Not yet.
But in here, I thought, is the essence of the pun that the Japanese language has evolved to embody, that the distinction of someone and something, is sometimes not so important. We are all but things. We are all living, in some ways; and we were all once star dusts and we will all be. To not over value life, not to have the delusion that we are anywhere more near god than the rocks and the sea and the sky. To remember this, and then to appreciate every moment that we are having these thoughts. This momentary miracle of consciousness. There's some cruelty, as well as humanity, in this. Don't you find?