clearskies, bluewater

Insights, reflections and creative imaginings for our awakening world

To be human


What is it to be “human?” I really have no idea how long people have been asking themselves this question, and it certainly is a doozy. No short answers, no amount of blog posts or thick books could really come close to explaining what it means. And yet. If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that I do not shy away from life’s big questions. Maybe it’s my odd idea of fun, or maybe I simply am a curious person, but regardless, today my topic is about us funny four-leggeds, who walk upon this holy ground we call the Earth, and mostly haven’t got much clue about our own species.

This is not about the scientific approach to this question, nor really about philosophy, the study of wisdom. Those are quite other subjects. What is it to be really human, after all? What kind of qualities does a real human possess? Let’s start with the word itself. Human comes from humain(e) in Middle English, homo from French, humanus in Latin. According to my American Oxford English dictionary, to be human is to be ‘characteristic of people, as opposed to God or animals or machines, esp. susceptible to the weaknesses of human beings.’ Other adjectives to describe a human include, ‘mortal, defenseless, weak, vulnerable, fallible, kind, kindhearted, considerate, charitable, compassionate, merciful, benign, tender, gentle, forgiving, benevolent, generous, magnanimous, understanding, sympathetic, humane, sensitive.’ Other nouns include ‘person, individual, being, mortal, soul.’

From my dictionary it is plain to see that to be human is associated with certain qualities which a person may possess and not others. Aside from a kind of vulnerability and weakness, being human also has to do with being kindhearted and merciful, tender and benevolent, compassionate and sensitive. Now we are beginning to form an impression of this being which is different from other kinds of beings who do not display these qualities. We can see that to be a human also means to be humane, that in fact they are actually one and the same thing.

For those philosophers in the crowd, you may be familiar with the famous work by Frederick Nietzsche, titled Human, All Too Human. For years I saw this book on my former husband’s bookshelf and, although I was never brave enough to pick it up and actually read it, the title intrigued me. What did he mean by ‘too human,’ I pondered. Can a person ever be too human? Or is it more the other way round, that our real work here is to become ever more human, more humane?

There are those who have studied the angelic realms, and who claim that humans are basically the lowest on the totem pole of Divine hierarchy, which means that after the Godhead and Trinity at the top, then comes a whole bunch of various angelic beings, from Thrones and Seraphim, down through archangels and ordinary varieties…. down, down the ladder from heaven to earth, where the lowly humans dwell.  It’s not all bad, however, because God really has a soft spot for us creatures, having made us in his/her image and all. So even though the whole host of heaven are above us in stature, we humans are a kind of favorite being of the most Divine. Well that is good luck, because as it turns out we really need a whole lot of help to be human. It is hard work because we are quite weak and vulnerable, and make so many mistakes all the time. Though we grow up, in a certain way we never truly become mature, like other beings seem to be. Instead there is always a part of the human which remains childlike, needs help, craves love, feels alone. Our destiny as souls on the earth gives us equal amounts of pain and pleasure, of longing and fear, of searching and of finding. Our biggest work is to figure out how to get along with each other, and it is often very difficult.

We struggle and fail hundreds of times before we get the hang of things here on Earth. It’s not like heaven at all, and this bothers some of us a lot. Some remember vaguely a different kind of existence, one which was a whole lot more harmonious and, well, happy. Others have memories of a different nature, when they were not so human, but more on a kind of animal level, more directly in contact with other life forms than humans. Still others may have intonations of a totally different kind of life, not at all in a human form, but more etheric and quite other-worldly. But once we incarnate into human bodies, we all need to figure out how to be humans on the earth. This can take many lifetimes to achieve, many different bodies and personalities to live out until one can become truly human.

When I was young, I lived with my mother, father and grandmother. Sometimes they spoke in Yiddish together, having grown up in New York City in the early part of this century among other Yiddish-speakers. One word which they tended to use to describe certain people was the word Mensch. My husband, who knows German, has informed me that this is an important word in the German language. From both my family’s usage, and my husband’s emphasis, I gather that the word Mensch means to be a True Human, one who has the qualities I have already mentioned.

So how about it, Dear Readers? Have any of you some thoughts or ideas about what it means to be Human? Please share a few words with me and other followers here, so we can have a little dialog about this most fascinating topic. And if any of you come from a non-English speaking background, please tell us what your word is for Human, and what it may mean!

Lesser things

unsettled, as yet I am
saved by my unknowingness
much is embraced, humbled as ordained
at the shrine of lesser things betrothed
troubled by smaller, weighted by greater
but love, fickle and compassionate
lifts my gaze to far horizon, enchanted
stepping softly into vast unknowns
where hearts beat in unison, smiling
before that which makes no sense
promising nothing that hope can cling to
thus we ride currents of wind
seeking resting place in listening ear
and curious minds, undaunted by separation
steadfast in their faith, cry
rivers of tears, until there are no more
no more save ours, thus embellished
gratefully we wash the feet of the beloved
humbled by the grace of us, undone

– Russ Njust

Related articles


Author: SingingBones

When we sing over the bones, we are calling the wild nature, the instinctive soul back, singing it alive again. To live with our wildness intact, is the greatest gift a woman can give herself. "It is the holy poetry and singing we are after." C.P. Estes

9 thoughts on “To be human

  1. Great post. As to your question, I think being human is to be bewildered. Here we are, in this vast and meaningless universe, a product of chance and circumstance, frantically trying to ascribe meaning to it all.


    • Thanks for your comment, Max! I would certainly agree, I can honestly say I feel bewildered quite often about this life! However, I part with your view that it is all without meaning. It’s true, we humans want things to ‘make sense’ and all too often it simply doesn’t. Thanks for reading, and thinking about life with me. SB


  2. Hey there Leigh

    I read your thought-provoking and well-written (again) blog about what it means to be human and wanted to share a poem that needs a little clarification.

    Four years ago I wrote the poem for my son Daniel for his 18th birthday to celebrate his transition into manhood, so to speak. Thinking back at the time when he was 2 yrs. old, I remembered when a man asked him, “so what do you want to be when you grow up, little man?” He bit his lip, thinking about it some moments and replied, “a human being.” We tried not to laugh and I thought he had gotten the answer from somewhere else. But he continued 2 more years answering the same question from others with, “a human being.” We weren’t laughing anymore. On the contrary, I truly had mixed feelings when he entered kindergarten and after some time changed his answer to “a soccer player.” I knew the days of innocence were over and the years of schooling and socialization had begun.

    So on his 18th birthday I read him the poem which was my way of validating his journey into manhood and his choices in life. I based it on past experiences, his way of thinking and what I believe to be his potential. After I read it someone smugly asked him if he still wanted to become a human being, to which he answered, “after you.”

    Here’s the poem:

    Sojourn for Daniel

    as expected, his childhood dreams subsided
    remembering each with painful, hidden smile
    he savoured fondly each secret childish thing
    recreating them cleverly for yet a little while

    what path now beckoned, he could not guess
    by definition, life was his alone to choose
    long he had pondered the nature of choice
    and the fear based definitions of win or lose

    ridiculous paradox, to choose or not to choose
    none seems better than another, although everyone pretends
    should I follow a trend or create my own, he pondered
    what end fulfils a goal when longing never ends?

    they say I’m young, with so much yet to learn
    some think they know it all, no matter what they know
    I wonder how they’re really feeling deep inside
    while winners count their winnings, where do losers go?

    so whose ambitions shall I choose, there’s or mine?
    what do I want to do or maybe someday become?
    is there a dream for me that’s meant to be
    do I follow in their footsteps or opt to beat the drum?

    I know that I’m no leader, but I’m following my lead
    I’m wiser than my age and smarter than it seems
    let them think that they know better, as long as I am me
    for I’d rather create my music than someone else’s dreams

    and as for growing older, it happens all the time
    there is no need to prove it, though I’m doing what I can
    let me learn to do my thing and I’ll let you do the same
    being sincere and genuine, is what ultimately makes a man

    so ask me what I want to be and I’ll tell you once again
    my ambitions are greater, than what you think you’re seeing
    of course I’ll live my dreams, no matter what I do
    but my highest goal is inevitably to become a human being

    and as expected, his childhood dreams subsided
    remembering each with, hidden smile
    he savoured fondly each secret, childish thing
    recreating them cleverly for yet a little while

    the rest of us watched him evolve and grow
    knowing successes gained are sometimes failures pending
    much is said yet one thing is obvious to all
    a genuine human being, is the only truly happy ending

    hugs, Russ


  3. Boy, you DON’T shy away from the complex topics, that is for sure.My sense is that we create most ,if not all, of the problems with being human by accepting an identity that is false……what has been called the ego. We do this because we are so vulnerable in these human bodies which are subject to distress of all kinds…I have been watching my grand-daughter intently .and she is SO dependent on her mother for nurturance and care without being able to speak… frustrating to her…and to us!So, This false identity of being separate and vulnerable is created…because it looks like we ARE separate.All of our so-called problems spring from this one source, I believe.

    And this is our journey …to get back to the divine state of oneness and trust in the connection we are share with each other and with Life itself.


    • Ah, Dr. Banner… thank you for your observations about your little grandbaby, truly a human in the making… again, may I remind you that this subject, (of being a human) along with your own ideas of what is ‘needed’ is not so simple, cannot be culled down into one succinct sentence or paragraph. If it were, we wouldn’t really have much more to talk about! Personally, I believe that were we to do what you suggest above, ‘get back to the state of oneness’ then Game’s Over for being a human on Earth. We wouldn’t really need to be here in these cumbersome bodies, so helpless, as is your grandchild, if we were ‘One’ with all that is….. that’s how I see life today, at least.


  4. Pingback: Automaton, or free will being? « clearskies, bluewater

  5. Pingback: The Incredible, not Inevitable, Hundredth Post! « clearskies, bluewater

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s