A friend recently asked me to write what means to be human. Below is my response.
We could be so much more. How can we claim to be ‘human’ while billions suffer? Sure, there have been massive technological advances in the past 100 years, but also untold suffering. During the few thousand years human civilization has been around, we’ve mostly been in conflict with each other.
Even worse, things aren’t moving in the right direction. Our political systems are in deadlock, capitalism remains unchecked, wars rage on, and facts lose out to fear on a regular basis. Oh, and we’re about to breach 8 planetary boundaries necessary for life. The word ‘human’ deserves so much more than what we have given it.
But hope isn’t lost.
That’s the great thing about being human: we can change. Our institutions may be failing to address the problems they were set up to confront, but there are people all over the world trying to make them better. These movements of people are fighting to make sure every human matters, fighting to protect the environment, and fighting to protect future generations.
These amazing individuals are trying to create a world free from the self-interest of nation states, corporations, and individuals. They approach the world with the idea that we are all profoundly lucky to be here and should do everything we can during our short lives to give back to those we will never know and never meet.
If we have these individuals and movements fixing things, what’s the problem? They’re working at the fringes. They’re making small gains and doing their best to keep humanity from backsliding on what small progress we’ve made.
As a wise person once said, ‘the first step to solving any problem is recognizing you have one’. The way we’re trying to create change isn’t working. We can’t rely solely on others to fix this for us. It’s time to rethink activism, rethink what it means to be human, and find new ways to create the change we need to see.
To start with, we need to engage a much broader segment of society — we need to engage ourselves — in the work that needs to be done. And we need to learn from our mistakes, share our knowledge, take more risks, and be more alive.
We need people out in the world ready to get things wrong and ready to challenge the traditional ways of doing things. If we can do that, we may begin to live up to the beautiful potential we have inside us.
I haven’t given up on being human — not yet.