Many people mistakenly believe that what makes us human is an opposable thumb. While that may be part of what separates us from the animals, it doesn’t actually make us human. Cut off a person’s thumb and he or she is still a person. So, what is it that makes us human? It’s a set of qualities that brings out our humanity. These qualities include our sense of identity, our compassion for one another, our ability to solve problems and our ability to learn from history and stories.
Identity and Being Human
With coronavirus sending everyone into isolation, we are facing a crisis that affects our very humanity. It attacks our sense of identity. Many of us form our identities based on what we do for a living and who we associate with. Those things have been taken away for a majority of people. If you’re not going to work, who are you? If you have no one to identify you, who are you? This subject comes up in literature and several Twilight Zone episodes (affiliate link). People don’t do well when isolated from others. In the days before media, banishment was equivalent to death. Fortunately, that can be alleviated through our technology – video phones are real, so chat it up with your friends through the protection of your phone and its video capabilities.
Looking for Compassion
If we follow the maxim of Mr. Rogers and “always look for the helpers,” we’ll see that there are plenty of people doing what they can to help others even at the cost of their own health or security. When an NBA player donates $100,000 to help the people who work at a stadium where games are no longer played, he’s doing so at the risk of his own financial security, especially when he’s a rookie who hasn’t time to build up his financial equity.
Closer to home, you might look at the medical professionals who continue to do their jobs in spite of conditions that are less than idea and situation that’s unprecedented. Sure, there are a few less than kind people out there who are looking to get theirs, and there are some dumb people who don’t care about keeping others healthy. But for every one person that isn’t self-isolating, there are a score of others, and that is a sacrifice for the greater good. That’s helping.
Solving Problems and Creativity
Our ability to solve problems is what has helped humans become the dominant species on the planet. There are bigger creatures than us. There are stronger creatures than us. There are faster creatures than us. There aren’t any creatures that are smarter than us. We use our brains to live in places that would otherwise be unthinkable.
We can live in the far north and south climates of cold, in the desserts, and in the nice equatorial regions. We live in space, under the sea, and any place else that we can find a place to hang our hats. We have brought fire and daylight inside and into the night. We have created clean septic systems to remove disease and filth from our homes. We can travel farther and faster than any other animals through machines, and we can build structures that defy logic. We even astound ourselves. Look at the pyramids or the temples in Malta.
History and Storytelling
It’s not just that we’re smarter, but that we pass everything we learn from generation to generation, which allows us to stand on the shoulders of giants when we choose. Our ability to remember history and pass it to the masses has allowed us to become more creative and to accomplish more than simply passing our stories on to a few people in our tribe. However, it is these stories, passed from tribe generation to tribe generation that also make us human. As a species, we have engaged in storytelling for thousands of years, long before writing and mass media was produced.
So, while you may find that your identity as an individual is under attack, you can also find ways to enhance your identity as a human being. Offer each other greater compassion, improve on your problem-solving and creativity skills, and tell stories. Tell stories to your children. Tell stories to your friends. Tell stories to the world. After all, we have the technology to tell all of these stories, we might as well do it. It is in these actions that we may be able to find humanity’s destiny again.