What it means to be human is to have relationships with other people - some very close to you, and others farther away. We cannot develop physically or intellectually without such relationships. We certainly cannot develop alone. Our health and happiness is always dependent on the quality of such relationships. Loving parents, a good family, close friends are enormously powerful resources for health and happiness. We are overcoming the idea that started with Descartes that we are isolated minds located in physical bodies: we now recognize that we are social beings whose physical and psychological development, linguistic capacity, and even brain development depends on our relationship with other people.
More broadly our humanity is further defined by our social circumstance. The language we speak and how we speak it—including the accent of our normal speech is not individually determined, but depends on the neighbourhood, the city, and the country we grow up in. Our wider social environment also affect the values we hold dear or struggle with. It implies that how we behave on a daily basis is closely linked to such broader social circumstances.
A new understanding of health takes us beyond the chemical/mechanical picture of human health as the smooth running machine with appropriate biochemical reactions. We now see that human health is dependent also on having social and relational resources. And we now know that happier people with close friends and good family relationships are also healthier.
The quality of our lives including our health and our social capacity is closely related to the resources we are provided to develop them. The quality of parenting, schooling, food, friendships, housing, our physical and broader social and political environments all play a role in the extent to which we can be fully human and live happy lives.
The dramatically unequal distribution of the resources for developing our human capacities is a great source of ill health and unhappiness in our world. Working to reduce such inequalities has become a major objective of those who recognize their importance in being human.
Published on 6 November 2017