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!
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
- Human Beings? (johanvonlochlin.wordpress.com)
- A Mortal Atheist (godlessvagina.wordpress.com)
- Humanity may have originated in the woods: Study – Zee News (zeenews.india.com)
- It’s a blinding Light, but somehow I can see (speaksinside.wordpress.com)
- Unconsidered: The things we never think about. (eeqj.com)