We are full of layers and those layers are shaped by our childhood, our culture, our experiences, our likes and dislikes, and our emotions and thoughts.
Luke Black is a recent graduate from Seattle University and works for the YWCA.
“What does it mean to be human?”
Reflecting on this question makes me smile. There are so many answers derived from so many perspectives. There are so many social locations and so many formative experiences contributing to so many answers that narrowing down these answers seems an eternal exercise. But it is good to pluck a few ideas from this stream and reflect upon them. These ideas that I have chosen are not cumulative or absolute representations. They are just ideas grown out of my social location and fed by my experience, education, culture, and community.
To be human is to be complicated and complex. As humans, our actions and our behaviors are so rarely simple. We are full of layers and those layers are shaped by our childhood, our culture, our experiences, our likes and dislikes, and our emotions and thoughts. Additionally, our lives are shaped by belief systems and institutions of power and control. These systems and institutions can be strong foundations or they can be destructive and oppressive. Cumulatively, all of these contributing factors mean that no actions or decisions on our part are simple.
To be human is to have a story. Each person is unique. As a result each person should be treated with respect and honored for their uniqueness. Each person should be given the opportunity to use their voice and to tell their story. Each person should be free from stereotypes and generalizations.
To be human is to want to be happy. This is hard because the word happy is not the most ideal word. It lacks depth and dimension. Happy is a very American word. Moreover, it is a human characteristic to define our wants in terms of the desire to avoid what we do not want. This can be confusing and, in the end, our inability to see outside our negative parameters can derail our search for happiness. To expand on happiness in positive terms, I think that humans want satisfaction or contentment. They want to be free from worry. They want to have fun and to laugh. They want to see their families grow and succeed. They want to be at peace.
To be human is to do good and to do evil. We all possess the capacity to do good and evil. We bless and curse, we tell the truth and we lie. We give and we steal. We create life and we destroy it. Over my life, perhaps naively and incorrectly, I have grown to doubt whether as humans we are good or are evil. Those are labels that come too easily and forsake both the future and any cumulative capacity. Those are labels that dehumanize us one to another.
To be human is to be lost and confused and to despair. Sadly, loss, confusion, and despair are a part of our story. We all experience some level of loss, confusion, and despair. Hopefully, for those of us who suffer the worst, there is diagnosis and treatment. For all of us, there should be compassion and gentleness.
To be human is to be in need of healing. As much as I wish it were not so, we are all broken and in need of deep healing and repair. We hurt ourselves and we hurt one another, we are destroyed and we destroy. As such, we must return to heal ourselves and heal one another.
To be human is to want love and to want to give love. I do not believe that love is a human creation. In fact, I believe that love created humanity. Love binds us and calls us to one another. Love is our greatest capacity.
To be human is to hope for the better. Just as love is our greatest capacity, hope is our strongest foundation. Hope gives us the strength to keep going, to seek the betterment of our species and the unity of our kind one to another and to creation. Hope gives the strength to keep going, even when it logically no longer makes sense.
To be human is to participate in our collective story. All of us, all the time, are participating together in the writing of this great human story. Through our actions of good and evil, our love, our hope, our despair, confusion, and loss, and our pursuit of healing and happiness, we are influencing and impacting one another. We are shaping one another’s stories into the giant tapestry of humanity.
To be human is not an easy undertaking. And more often than not, it is long into our lives before we realize our similarities and connections. As such, we deserve patience and forgiveness. We should treat one another with compassion and be slow to judge. We should be quick to defend one another and sacrifice for one another. And we should work for the wholeness of all of us.