Sunday, June 9, 2013

To Be Human

         I know a man who occasionally makes comments like this: "We humans are like that" or "We're human, right? That's what humans do"  or "Human beings do that sort of thing".  When he says things like that, I find myself somehow soothed, as if recognizing that whatever behavior he is commenting on is normal and natural (instead of the wrong or bad I might have been assuming).  It is such an accepting way of seeing the world.  A conversation with him a couple of days ago set me to thinking about what it means to be human.  What is the essence of being human?

         Human beings are the same in so many ways. Human beings are different too.  Yes, they all have fears and dreams but those fears and dreams are different from person to person.  All human beings hurt sometimes but they hurt in different ways and for different reasons.  But the experience of pain is a commonality.  As Tom Robbins says,  “There is no such thing as a weird human being, It's just that some people require more understanding than others.”  I like that.  It speaks to the complexity of being human.

          Human beings are a bundle of everything.  I would say that the life of a human being is messy.  To be human is to have conflicting needs and wants.  There's the messy part.  It can be so confusing to sort it all out.  So complex.  To be a human who is alive is to be a human who experiences both what it means to be broken and what it means to be whole - sometimes at the same time.  To be human is to fight and  to surrender, to be strong and to be weak, to be cautious and careless, to be clear and to be muddled - all at the same time.  Messy, messy, messy.

       Being human also means being flawed. No one is perfect and the flaws show our humanity.  You can be messed up and confused and scared and it doesn't mean you are defective.  It only means you are human.  Human beings are also not fixed in stone.  Feelings or aspirations from one day may be gone in the next. Curiosity calls forth new roads and yet old roads can remain too.  To get what we want or need is not necessarily easy.  Our eyes may turn in one direction and our bodies may crash into the wall in that same instant.  It takes effort and focus.  And you can pay a price for effort and focus.  Nick Harkaway said it like this: " Being human isn't like hanging your hat on a hook and leaving it there, it's like walking in a high wind: you have to keep paying attention. You have to be engaged with the world.” 

     I am curious.  What do you think it means to be human?






14 comments:

  1. The first image that came to mind when you posed the question "What do you think it means to be human?" was one person holding the door for the next person and then the second person saying "Thank you." That may be a simplistic and perhaps idealistic view of our species.
    I think that spontaneous kindness and compassion for one another is instinctive in the majority of humans. Sometimes, though, we tend to over think and those basic instincts get mired and bogged down with the too much baggage and junk that we accumulate and hold on to.

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    1. I'd certainly like to think that kindness is core to the human experience. Sometimes I think that the ability and/or desire to show kindness to others is directly related to the experience of receiving kindness. It might also tie to the ability and/or desire to show kindness to oneself.
      Sometimes I think too much (actually often I think too much). Ditto feel too much. Humans do that sometimes.

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  2. I think to be human is to be flawed...to be imperfect...to love, to feel, to be happy, to be sad...to "be".

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    1. Absolutely - to be human is to be flawed. The hard part can be recognizing and accepting the flaws for what they are - an indication of our humanity - as opposed to being some sort of defect.

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  3. Is to see ourselves in another person despite their flaws, behavior or imperfection. We are the same in all of our differences.

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    1. I should also add despite our OWN flaws, behavior, imperfection...

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    2. I'ver heard/read that notion before: the idea that you see yourself in another. Perhpas that speaks to the similarities that tie us all together. I don't really understand what it means to see myself in another other than to acknowledge that I have similar thoughts. feelings, experiences.

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  4. Wow! I love your thoughts. I think there's too much to being human to summarize neatly and that anything I say will be inherently untrue because it's too narrow, too small. I will take a stab anyway.

    I think to be human (as distinct from another animal) is to have the capacity for abstraction and that this tendency demonstrates itself in two major ways. We make meaning that allows us to function, to identify constructs such as "chair," "mother," "Republican" and "jerk." The second is that this tendency, which has separated us from the present moment, from the immediate experience of joy, causes us to suffer, so we seek transcendence from the narrow meanings we have made. We require things like religion or a sense of purpose to allow us to go beyond the inherent limitation of our categorized thoughts. I think we are both of these capabilities and the tension we feel most of our lives is between the polarity of the two.

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    1. For sure you are right about that, Tara! WAY too much to summarize in a silly blog post but it gets the thoughts spinning and the words shared. Thanks for chiming in!

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  5. This is basically my first day back on the computer in three weeks, one week vacation and two weeks with a rootkit virus and my laptop in the laptop hospital.

    I'm just going to say hi and leave this heavy discussion to y'all. My brain isn't ready for something this deep yet :)

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    1. And hi back! I have pretty much been absent from the blog world for about two months myself - no good reasons like viruses and such. Mostly life in all its messiness and complexity just got in the way!

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  6. Sometimes at work, I just sit and listen to the residents talk about things--about weather or sports or relationships or politics. These conversations often reveal all sorts of things about them as human beings--their fears and prejudices and hopes and dreams--their world views and their views of themselves in that world. I just remarked to a coworker last night, while listening to someone in the next room expound at length on a topic he clearly knew empirically very little about, that what I love about my job is the opportunity to be immersed in humanity in all its glorious messy varieties. I love seeing the strengths and weaknesses, the vast (and sometimes misplaced) confidence and the gaping (and sometimes misplaced) insecurity--all of it.

    I loved this piece, too--for getting to the heart of what it means to be human by acknowledging the messy center of it all.

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    1. Thanks, MM. DAMN! Being human is complicated and messy. Seems as if it should be straightforward and clear. I don't know why it should be straightforward and clear. It seems like "ff this, then that" should apply. But, nope. Not even close.

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