What makes us human?
Let’s start with humans vs. animals. Are we that different? Why does that matter? I think we differentiate ourselves from other mammals for two reasons. I believe religions needed to create an image that humans were more holy than the beasts walking the earth. And, I think we looked for differences so we could kill animals. If we felt they were brethren then we wouldn’t kill them. I think we’re more like animals than we care to believe.
We used to think our ability to use tools separated us from the animal kingdom. Now we know many animals use tools and are quite clever. In the book Animal Tool Behavior by Robert W. Shumaker, Kristina R. Walkup and Benjamin B. Beck, the authors challenge persistent myths about animals and tools. And Jon Hamilton summarizes the new information they present in this excellent article Myth Busting: The Truth About Animals And Tools.
We thought it was language that made us special but we’re discovering incredible things about animals that use language.We used to think animal calls were random and lacked complexity. Besides humans did you know Prairie dogs may have the most complex language in the animal kingdom? And Dolphins have names for each other.
So what makes us different?
There was a point we thought the difference was that humans have compassion and animals do not. Have you had a dog try to comfort you when sad or sick? That’s compassion. Did you see the monkey give his friend CPR? He saved his life. There is enough evidence from animal research and observation to show that animals can show great concern for individuals in their clan and even outside their species at times. Check out this friendship between Tarra and Bella!
Is it that we’re spiritual beings? We don’t know that animals aren’t. And many people aren’t spiritual and they’re still human and different from animals. Regardless, this is a great article about the area of the brain researchers are associating with spirituality. And this is short video on what is “the self”. Very interesting.
Some say we separate ourselves from animals by our self-consciousness. It seems some animals have an awareness of themselves. Chimps recognize themselves in mirrors.
We say humor is uniquely human—well, not everyone has a sense of humor! Plenty of animals are clowns and play tricks; this is humor. Of course, animals can’t tell jokes, but some people’s jokes aren’t funny anyway.
Another suggestion is that our understanding of time separates us from the animal kingdom. That cracks me up since we made up the concept of time. None-the-less most animals know the seasons and many can sense time. A dog knows when her person is coming home from the time of day, assuming it is consistent. She wakes up, stretches, and is waiting at the door before his person pulls up.
When it comes to the basics like using tools, figuring out puzzles, using language, remembering the dead, having compassion, and giving and receiving love animals are not that different from humans.
I think it’s our capacity that gives us our human spark. Capacity for what?
We know many animals use tools, but it’s our capacity to create complex tools that sets us apart. It’s the same with language. Animals have it but our complex language let us develop civilization. Our brains invent, create, and stack ideas upon one another. That is what sets us apart from animals.
What do you think makes humans more than just another animal?
The truth is we are animals, and when it comes to being animals, we could do a better job at being fair and playing well with others.
We are the animals lucky enough to make things and build on discoveries and lessons learned. We have made endless advancements in science, medicine, and materials that improve our health and lives. We’re advancing the infrastructure of humanity at an incredible rate. Every new lesson is the foundation for the next. The possibilities are astounding.
We evolved but are we evolving?
We’ve made so much progress in the infrastructure for the human tribe, but are we evolving as people? Are we increasing our tolerance of fellow humans? Are we working as a team to advance humanity? Watch the news; it’s clear we’re struggling.
To evolve as a species we’ll need to do more than cure a few diseases, rebuild skyscrapers, or wear purple for whatever cause we’re mindlessly supporting this month.
We need to change as individuals if the world stands a chance. Worldwide we need to reject injustice, violence, and a class-based society but to do that we need to become independent thinkers and avoid social pressures to conform to everyone else. We need to become intellectually and emotionally autonomous so we don’t get caught up in mob mentality (like we saw with the Brexit and the US presidential race).
The one place the push for conformity is growing like a cancer is social media. People spew contempt and pressure to shut others up. There is no free speech on social media. A person risks being jumped on and attacked, loosing “friends” , and in some cases receiving threats. There is no tolerance for any individuality. And if people aren’t screaming at someone they’re mimicking them. Still no individuality.
To save the world become an individual! We can start with not sharing some meme on Facebook that directly or inadvertently adds fuel to the hate and contempt among citizens of the world. We can stop joining others teasing a friend or “correcting his opinion”. Yes that is ganging up on someone and regardless of the intentions it’s trying to get someone to conform. Even when we agree with something on social media it doesn’t mean we have to like it, or make comments in agreement. We also don’t need to ‘bring in the troupes’, i.e., get others to agree with us to make our point to someone else. If your opinion is ‘correct’ you don’t need anyone to agree with you. Anyway opinions are opinions and nothing to argue. Working toward becoming the people we need to be so the world can change means taking a rest from the anger, judgment and over inflated opinions everywhere on social media. And to realize everyone and every country’s ‘shit’ stinks so we can stop blaming others all the time because we’re all part of the problem. So then we can pay attention to and correct what we need of our own beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and contributions. It’s a step toward peace.