Given the time in which we live, when all seems so dangerous and unstable; when the cry of the suffering seems so loud – yet unheard; when the tears of the broken seem like floods – yet left untended. It seems a particularly appropriate time for me to contemplate what it means to be human.
Almost all mainstream religions and belief systems place human beings in a favoured position with whatever supernatural force they deem responsible for the creation of the earth and all within it.
Humans are special, we say we are special, so we must be special. What does it mean to be special? – I suppose it depends on who we are special to?. We are the pinnacle of creation, the most resourceful, the most intelligent – so intelligent we have the self granted authority to qualify the intelligence of other creatures in relation to our own. Semi omnipotent (of course, there can only be one Omnipotent force), we have the power to dispense death yet cannot equally give life. We can cause so much suffering but have yet to master causing joy and happiness to the same extent. So maybe being human is about being special to the God, a god or gods. To be servient to a higher being; endowed with intellect enough to set it aside and devote one’s entirety to blind dedication to the unseen but ever present.
Native American spirituality believes that to be human is to have an elevated status. This status centers on us has having a special relationship with the Spirit. More than a simple status, it obligates every Human Being to be responsible for the earth and all within it. Characterised by a strong belief in a balance, a state of equilibrium amongst all the plants and creatures of the earth it is seen as our duty as Human Beings to actively preserve this balance.
In my youth I sampled three of the world’s main religions (christianity – the evangelistic ‘born-again’ sort, islam and buddhism). Partly as a search for something concrete to base my life on (to get some unfailing, unquestioning guidance), partly as a way to fit into a society so ingrained with religion that to abstain from it was social suicide. (plus I was courting this hot chick!). This experience taught me more about human frailty, need, greed and power than about God or love or indeed an acceptable definition of what being human really was.
(now this is interesting! – would I be prepared to accept a definition of what being human was if it turned out to be cynical and devoid of hope?)
Perhaps being human is about love. Being able to love, to choose to love, what and whom. Don’t animals love? I believe they can and do. Maybe one can’t measure it in a lab (which is no proof that it doesn’t exist!), but I believe that every living creature is capable of love – the endearment to something that gives one pleasure and meaning. It would be too arrogant to say love was an human emotion which implies animals are partly human. Perhaps a more apt description would be that love is an attribute of something from which all life stems.
Or is being human about being obsessed with trying to find meaning to our existence as human beings. Perhaps being human is divine-speak for ‘lost and searching instead of just being’. Is that the spark that sets humans apart from mere animals, who accept their existence as what it is. Or is that human ignorance prevents us from appreciating that animals are just as curious of their place in the cosmos as we are?
I think that to be human is to love and respect the fountain from which we all fall as droplets of the divine; and to project this love and respect for other such droplets.
Whatever it turns out to be or not, one thing is certain – I shan’t be the first nor the last to want to know. So long as people of all ages seek to know what being human really means, there is hope that some may find an answer that helps all.