What makes us human?
Kriss joined Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2. Listen to the interview here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04q5y8m
Here is the article that Kriss wrote and recited during the interview.
There are few questions as powerful as what makes us human. But ultimately, what makes us human is the ability to even cogitate on that question.
We might be reminded of Descartes’ ‘I think, therefore I am’ here, but to me, being human is more than that. We think both on our own, and in relationship to others – because being part of a society is what makes us human.
Just imagine, if there were no other people in this world, would I speak a language? Would I even know I could speak? With nobody to reflect back our discourse, we don’t have that realisation.
I’m born alone, I die alone, but in the space in between, I meet others and I interact with them. And that interaction is what makes me human, those relationships with all the others who have ever been and who ever will be.
When animals act on instinct – perhaps to protect their young – they respond fiercely without consideration. However, as a human, I can stop and think before acting. I think about the situation in relation to all that I’ve seen, all that I’ve heard, all that I know, all that’s been passed down to me, and I can respond accordingly. And that knowledge which has been passed on from everyone else is vitally important.
So to me, it’s our relationship with others, and the impressions they leave, that are key to making us human. We are the sum of all the people we have ever met, and those half-a-dozen we reinvent ourselves with the most.
And with those others around us, we ascribe meaning to our lives. Without that meaning, our lives are essentially meaningless; we come into the world simply to die. As existentialists have mused for centuries – the likes of Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus – we are all dealing with the reality of the meaninglessness of this life, and yet we make it meaningful.
And by doing so, we are human.
I look back at my life, I see a series of events, and I create a meaningful narrative that informs how I will act today. However, another aspect of our humanity is that we can reframe those narratives. We might meet new people, have new experiences, causing us to reflect and change the way we do things, enabling us to choose to do something different.
This leads us to contemplation, so we can live our lives to the full. We can contemplate the life we’ve had, and what we’ll do with the life we have left. It’s so important to live a life you can sum up as ‘a life well lived’, and so by contemplating, adapting, and acting, we can put ourselves in the right position to live-to die.
I can stand here now, aged 58, and if I’m lucky, I have 22 years plus left. But I can think about everything that’s been before, and think about how I will tie it up in the years to come, to know I’ve had lived life well. I can think about how I want people to remember me, the legacy I want to leave my children, and, because I am human, I can do something about it now.
When we watch movies, we’re given the impression that death is a neatly done thing. But in reality, it’s not always like that. What will go unsaid? What will go undone?
So, the things you want to do now? Do now. The things you want to say now? Say now; thereby reframing Cognito ergo sum to, “I die there for I am!”