The following response is a contribution from a student at Youth Initiative High School in Viroqua, Wisconsin.
To ask a human what it means to be human is a humbling question. To give a wholehearted answer, one has to both look deep inside one’s own mental palace of consciousness and also take a difficult step out of one’s own perspective on the question. To get a clear grasp of what it means to be human, it seems to me that you would have to observe yourself and others as well as human existence as a whole from a point of view that is not that of any living being in our shared conception of existence here on Mother Earth.
To look at the raw truth, beauty, simplicity, and complexity of human existence brings to light a reality of polarity, of opposites. I say this because the grand scale at which the human race operates is so vast and full of variation. There is good. There is evil. There is passion. There is listlessness. There is ignorance. There is awareness. Also, there is everything in between and beyond these confounds of polarity, which is a sort of unseen middle ground. This grey area of uncertain definition has not proved easy for humanity to fully contemplate.
We seem to be stuck within a two-sided, three-dimensional box of polarity, bouncing from one opposite to the other. Trying to imagine a two-sided, three-dimensional box seems very impossible and that is my point, that an existence beyond polarity can seem a bit unfathomable for us as human beings. Yet, as it is, we do have amazing capabilities within our mind that to the best of our knowledge, most other life forms on Earth do not posses. Such powers of the mind consist of things like abstract thought, generative computation, mental symbols, and the promiscuous combination of ideas.
Yet even with “scientific” data and research behind these four powers of the mind, they are still basically constructs of our own minds—a product of our lust for order and definition. The objective of our attempts to terminate mysteriousness is to Know and understand everything we encounter and every thing we question. One of these Questions we don't quite understand and maybe never will understand is that of our very essence.
Who are these beings we claim to be. Are we even existing in the way we claim to be? Are we truly “real” as our definition of the word “real” implies? Reality? Perhaps we are entirely a construct of our own mind for we would not be human and we would not live within our concept of humanity if we had not made it all up. You could be whatever you pleased as long as you believed you were. The only difference is that the rest of the people around you might not perceive you as such. Are humans just another species in the animal kingdom or are we somehow set apart from the rest of our fellow earthlings? Are we special?
When you take a step back and look at the history of humans on Earth, you will find that long ago we were more similar and more in touch with the rest of the natural world and the beings that we now call ”animals." As time passed and all creatures changed slowly into what they are today, it is obvious that some very different things happened on the path that us humans traveled in order to get to the existence we have now.
For example, we started acting out of what we call our free will, leading us to creativity and abstract thought. Thus we became some of the most indulgent creatures on Earth. We started separating things into categories, and making concrete distinctions for our verbal and visual expression along with what we deem just or moral ways to treat our fellow humans and the other species of planet Earth. Just as we are able to act out of our feelings of empathy, compassion, and consideration, we are also capable of inflicting great physical and mental damage on each other.
It seems to me that the human race has an immense abundance of self-inflicted arrogance that has plagued us and has resulted in crazy amounts of cruelty, violence, segregation, oppression, and general disruption of the common good. This arrogance and massive collective ego that a large portion of the human population feeds into, leads people to make extremely inaccurate assumptions when quantifying the value or importance of the other beings that we live with and comparing them to what they see in themselves or the human race in its integrity. We fail to see the ingenuity other species have and learn from it. This is not always the case, but these bits of intelligence are often looked over.
- How beavers can construct massive dams that slow the movement of large flowing bodies of water.
- The way birds are able to fly and create intricate nests that are both beautiful and functional.
- Pollinator insects that make the botanical world go round, specifically honey bees which live in hive by the thousands and all work cohesively to perform amazing feats of sweetness and fertility. I don't think a human would travel 55,000 miles and visit 100,000 flowers for a gallon of honey.
- The amazing ability to survive that a single cockroach has.
- The strength, endurance, and resilience that trees have that enables them to live for hundreds of years, live through extreme winters and endure violent weather patterns without uprooting and moving a single time.
- Lastly, the will power of migratory animals to travel upwards of 1,000 miles to have two comfortable seasonal homes.
All these awesome acts of earthly existence are achieved through nothing but the individual beings at work with there own determination and the cooperation of the beings around them. No complex technology that is artificially manufactured, no lust for more than what is needed, and no cheating or unnecessary belittlement. Humans have achieved most of these things but with great trial and error, and little-to-no consideration for what is too much and what effects they will have on the future inhabitants of our lovely Mother Earth. That being said, I would conclude that to be human is to follow your own instincts, feelings, and necessities with deep consideration for one's impact on all surroundings and all relations.