Being Human

  A single statement can seem, all at once, to be an excuse, a simple truth, a disappointment, a source of pride, an obstacle, and a great reason for hope.

  We are human. We do not always have all the facts, cannot always make all the right connections, often have trouble seeing the larger picture, sometimes fall short of having the type or degree of ability we might like, have a host of desires that can get in our way, are not always able to achieve our goals, and occasionally make mistakes. However, there is not really anything particularly unique about us when it comes to this state of affairs. The truth is that any living being has the potential to fail due to error or lack. Other animals can be violent to get something they want, to express unpleasant feelings, or simply as a form of cruel entertainment. Other organisms can overrun their environment, deplete needed resources, and deposit more waste product than other forms of life, as well as they themselves, can continue to live amidst.

  But being human does not just mean we can be seen as imperfect, the same as any other form of life. It also means we can be viewed as distinct from the rest. Aside from what brings us down, we have a blend of other qualities that we display in a manner and to an extent that actually set us apart from other creatures, in one sense, and bring us together with each other and all the rest of existence, in another. As with other animals' ability to run faster, lift more weight, puncture and tear more fiercely with teeth and claws, and so on, this is not simply a matter of willingness but of capability. Humans are capable of more in certain areas because our brains developed to make it possible to house such abilities. And it is not just our intellect making the difference.

  While we are not the only primates who can share, cooperate, have a sense of justice, be sensitive to the feelings of others, get an idea of what others might be thinking, and indicate a grasp of the concept of cause and effect, we are able to do all these things to a level and in a manner that is more evolved. We are able to exhibit altruism, faith in the face of doubt, compassion not only for friends and family members but for those we do not personally know and even those we may dislike for whatever reason, and an advanced understanding of consequences. We also possess a capacity and desire to forgive, even under extremely difficult circumstances - a thing that may seem astonishing, given how vengeful we have also shown we can be.

  Other primates learn by trial and error as well as by observation and imitation. We can do both these things; but we can also learn by being taught, which not only allows us to accelerate some parts of the learning process but also to increase the complexity of our knowledge and the degree to which we can fit it together with other information we already have in order to build upon it.

  Only a few animals are known to play for the sake of playing and not just as practice for hunting or fighting, and we are among them. But we also engage in artistic pursuits, both creative and appreciative, simply for the joys of beauty, expression, and connection . We are even able to take what would otherwise be simple violence and elevate it into sport in which safety precautions are taken so that opponents can compete with vigor and passion, then later celebrate together, if they choose, as though they had all along been on the same side. As a viable alternative to mere violence, this elevates the activity into a support for peace that can be pleasurable for all: the victor, the vanquished, the stalemated, and the spectator. And when turbulent times do arise, we are capable of seeking out successful ways of resolving our issues so that violence can be averted or halted. That parties in a given situation may or may not actually do this is not the point; rather, it is that, as human beings, we can and many times actually do.

  The aforementioned qualities, combined with our powers of analysis and comprehension and our drive to explore, develop, and reflect upon both ourselves and what is beyond, have been the source of our greatest leaps in creativity, our most profound insights, our truest success. Yes, we can and have done terrible things throughout our history. But, to make a long story short, and meaning no insult to our nearby kin: any chimpanzee can go to war. It is our interest in and practice of both the art and the arts of peace that define us as human.

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