What makes us human?

Sunday 21st September 2014

Sea Day – What makes us human?

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I have been listening with great interest to a show on BBC Radio 2, and one of the ongoing topics of discussion has provoked some intense thoughts and feelings of my own. The host has invited some of the great and good of our society to outline their thoughts on the subject of what makes us human, to give us the listener some insight into the way these different individuals, with varied experience of our world, think about what make us the very unique and extremely complex people we undoubtedly are. I have become captivated by the discussion and feel somewhat compelled to express my own ideas.

So for me…………what makes us human?

Today, surrounded by the vast Atlantic Ocean, an insignificant speck in this wonderful miracle we all inhabit,  I thought I’d be serious for once………

It is certainly very easy to state all the different individual characteristics which make each of us good and honourable citizens of the world, or good humans if you prefer. Compassion, generosity, patience, tolerance, perseverance, these are all positive and admirable traits which allow us to be welcomed into society with open arms and held high as role models, encouraging others to follow in our footsteps and take up these preferred and highly acceptable characteristics.

But I’m assuming this topic of discussion is more about what collectively sets us aside from any other life form rather than just identifying the desirable attributes we should all adopt to make this world a better place to live and thus create a more human society.

What really makes mankind different, what drives us as a species, what wholly separates us from the animals?

It is certainly a fact that some of the positive individual traits I have already mentioned can be seen demonstrated to varying degrees by many of the creatures we share this amazing planet with, but no one would ever consider them to be human. It would also be fair to say there are many of our fellow homosapians who possess few if any good characteristics and in fact regularly demonstrate negative attributes like cruelty, dishonesty and intolerance which are considered wholly undesirable and antisocial. But does this make them any less a human??

Now I’m not a religious person, which doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God or consider that maybe there is a higher being in charge of all of this, and it is said in the bible that God created man in his own image. Now I’m sure the theologians will give many varied interpretations of this statement, but mainly it is believed to mean we have been given freewill to make our own choices. We are also gifted with insight and judgment, which enables us to consider the potential consequences to our decisions, and armed with this knowledge many may still choose to do the right thing for the greater good for all, even at great personal cost. So does this answer the question of what makes us human as no animal would ever do this, as all animals act instinctively in their own individual interest? Well that could be part of the answer but for me there is more to it than that.

Personally I think it is our creativity that makes us human, we haven’t just evolved physically through procreation, we have survived as a species and evolved quicker than our friends the animals because we have successfully developed our natural ability to imagine, design and create. The skill and knowledge acquired over the centuries is used to improve the things we already have and give us an ability to invent and develop anything we need to make our existence considerable better. This doesn’t just include the physical things that have helped us to progress, like machinery, electricity and medicines, but also extends to the concepts, ideas, systems and theories which develop our personalities and attitudes.

Although mankind can’t take any of the credit for creating God, there have been many different religions and cultures put in place by man to answer a need. They were developed to give us ethics and moral guidance, comfort in time of need, plausible explanations to our desire to understand about how we came to exist and the meaning of life. Religion and culture created and bonded the early communities and gave the local citizens support, but best of all religion offered its faithful disciples a promise of a continuation of life beyond their physical existence. Culture like humans has evolved to keep relevance with time, constantly developing all but the basic core values in order to meet the ever changing needs of the people, and so it gives a purpose and identity, with or without a god.

Government was created to give us rules, enhance social structure, protect and nurture its citizens and develop the means for countries to grow and prosper.

Technology not only gives us a more efficient way to make things, travel and communicate, but  literally assists us to live longer healthier and happier lives.

And all of this has been created by humans, but why?

The answer for me is very simple, it gives us the one thing we all crave and desire, the one thing that drives our every waking moment, keeps us going through this life at an unbelievable pace, we create to give us HOPE.

Not the negative and selfish ‘I want it all’ type hope, although that exists today more than ever, but the simple hope that just wants everything to be a little bit better for everybody.

A hope for a better future, for peace, an ability to cure disease and eliminate suffering, to prolong our useful life, maintaining a state of happiness and enjoyment. Our biggest hope is probably the desire for an extension of being beyond this physical existence and the knowledge we will participate in an eternity of continuing wonderful experiences.

Hope unites us in a way that nothing else can. It crosses all cultural barriers and standardises every religion. It drives us to invest unquantifiable time and resources into the technology and research in the quest for more answers. Hope gives life a meaning and a purpose, and yet for each of us hope is as simple as it is different, and tomorrow it can all change.

From great thinkers to reward winning directors, dedicated religious and community leaders to world renown rock legends, from the rich and famous to an average nobody like me, hope drives us, inspires us and gives us the strength to face whatever life may throw at us.

‘What makes us human?” for me it’s our endless search for Hope and the optimistic comfort it delivers…………..and yet it promises nothing.

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