It’s very common to hear people re-iterate the fact that we are human.
“I’m only human” “I’m finally getting in touch with my own humanity” “The inhuman treatment of prisoners…”
But nailing down just what is being talked about is a little tricky. In philosophical and theological circles, human is often used as a synonym for limited.
This, I think, is weak.
Of course, it’s true that we are limited. At any given moment, we have constraints on our action, and are forced to make choices between different outcomes, based on the energy and resources we have at our disposal. We are always making decisions under duress.
But, to listen to mythology and theology, this is also the situation of the gods. It is the fate of all beings; divinity doesn’t get a free pass.
So what makes us human is not fundamentally a contrast with the divine. The contrast must be with something else, something much closer to home.
This past month I’ve been walking every morning. I spend a lot of time in a mental world — thinking, writing, coding — and walking makes me feel a little more in touch with aspects of myself that tend to fade from view. I enjoy the feeling of stretching my legs, venturing out into the world, taking on a little of the elements, experiencing the sense that I could keep going, that other places are within reach. It reconnects me to my trips overseas, to my childhood spent hiking through the woods.
And I often summarize this by saying that it makes me feel more human. And by that, I mean that it makes me feel less one-dimensional.
Being human, I think, is being nuanced. It is being complex and layered. It is having connections with our body, our selves, and the world around us. It is answering to hunger, and being compelled to write.
This complex of nested relationships that we live in imposes a lot on us. It’s easy to see that as being limited, or operating under constraints. But what it really is, I think, is an insistence that we don’t live in just one area, defined by our jobs or our family or our thoughts. We live in a wide-open world, and we are beings built to be just as open, just as nuanced and nested and deep, as everything around us.