On Being Human, More or Less. / by Kendall Gilfillan

Throughout my brief 22 years on this earth, I've heard the phrase "only human" more times than I can possibly recount. But here's the problem with this: we have no idea what we mean when we say this.

 Photo by Kenzie Maroney

Photo by Kenzie Maroney

It's an easy quip that makes us comfortable with our humanity, but what does it actually amount to? All too often in society we idolize and demonize, decorate and degrade. We act as if we understand what it means to be a human being, but do we?

Why do we treat some people as more than people, and other people as less than our common household pets?

It's because we are not fully accepting the simple fact that we are all human beings. We are all fully human and we are all only human. We're uncomfortable with admitting that.

Today, we fall in love with ideas of people and strive to attain an image of ourselves. We use people as objects to obtain an economic ideal and view the lives of celebrities as an exhibit for our own entertainment. 

This split between experiences of body and conventions of mind cause a fundamental clash in how we think about ourselves and those around us. 

As a human being, I have a physical body. What does this mean? I have experiences of a pounding heart, trembling hands, shortness of breath, pain, goosebumps, knot of anger, pit of uneasiness that I'm being lied to, physical pain of heartbreak or loss, gnawing hunger, the sensation of my hand being held, of loving another person. Living in a body means I feel desire and frustration, pleasure and pain.

 

 

Now, what is an image? It is what is formed on the retina when something is looked at. It is flat. It has no dreams, no hunger, no voice. What is an idea? It is a concept or thought. It is ethereal or rational. It is not seen nor touched. It has no feelings or desires of its own.

So what happens when we create a self-image or an idea of another human being?

 Photo by Kenzie Maroney

Photo by Kenzie Maroney

What are we doing when we decide that we ought to base our goals off of the people we follow on social media? What are we doing when we treat online dating like online shopping?What are we doing when we express anger at young celebrities for going through rebellious phases that contradict their Disney image?

What are we doing when we turn people into statistics of suicide, of homicide, of starvation, of trafficking? What are we doing when we make people out to be an intellectual or political problem to be solved rather than people to be saved? 

We are failing to recognize that human beings do not live in bodies that reflect others' or our own desires, but live in desiring bodies. 

The celebrity who is bombarded by paparazzi the first time he runs into his ex still feels that twinge of pain and embarrassment. The "Instafamous" still question their editing choices. Politicians still second-guess themselves. Mother Teresa suffered from depression. Terrorists have families they love. The Buddha still experienced the lure of luxury. Jesus still experienced temptation and anger. 

The Muslim or Jew or Buddhist or Christian or atheist next door to you still doubts. The independent are not immune to feeling isolated. Soldiers still get scared.

The sex trafficked woman, child, or man still experiences shame. The differently-abled still feel the sting of rejection. The homeless still tremble in the cold. The fleeing refugees are not immune to primal fear. The forced laborers feel that fatigue that is just enough to make you want to give up. The starving can't escape that gnawing hunger.

 Photo by Kenzie Maroney

Photo by Kenzie Maroney

We are all human beings. We share the human experience. We have different beliefs, different lifestyles, different diets, different desires, different political ideologies. But we are all human.

"What a shame to think a person is more than a person," what a travesty to not treat a person as a person. 

Sociopaths and saints are both human beings. We may abhor and despise that fact, but we must accept it if we wish to make moral progress. We must understand the full range of what it means to be human in order to understand ourselves and one another. We do not get to choose who is worthy of being a human being. We do not get to decide who is a number and who really matters.

We are only human- no more and no less. Let's start acting like it.