I wrote this alongside my artwork in first semester, however in light of recent events I feel that it is relevant to my life and practice this semester.
I find the biological terms which describe humanness completely uninteresting as it is evident that there is something more to personhood than simply being of the same species. Most of us believe that humans have a unique consciousness or a “soul”. Additionally, people constantly deny other people of their humanity, even though we are all members of the same species. This happens on a macro level, for example, when governments refuse to acknowledge the very existence of certain ethnic minorities. It happens on a micro level every time we dehumanise someone merely by imagining them as less complex than ourselves – for instance, when, we label others, as merely “sick”, “poor” or just as a “them” to some “us” which happens to include me.
It is widely believed that what makes us human is that we can share stories through society and across generations. However there are many people who cannot tell or listen to stories – due to intellectual disabilities, for example – and yet they are still human. Likewise, we often associate reading and writing with being human, but there are many people who cannot read or write and they are often marginalised. However, these people are the ones whose humanity needs acknowledged the most. This is similar with many other definitions of personhood: they often exclude the poorest, sickest or most depressed. These narrow definitions can lead to dangerous circumstances – for example, Europeans and White Americans essentially denied the humanity of black people to justify slavery. This dehumanisation is also relevant in today’s culture; to be treated as a full human in the world today, you may not need just a human body and spirit but an ID card attesting to a particular citizenship. Wealth, race, sex and class can all factor into how human the world treats you.
What can we say is inclusive of all humans? We tend to be capable of empathy, collaboration and hope – however, in these respects, I do not think we are unique amongst animals. I believe that we confer personhood upon each other through empathy, compassion and trust. There is no way of independently verifying that others are even really human at all, however we choose to believe they are. When we acknowledge each other’s consciousness and complexity we lead better lives and feel less alone in times of grief.
In conclusion, I believe that we are human because we believe in each other’s’ humanness; we listen and work together to alleviate others’ suffering. If that is the case, then being human is something we are, but also something we should aspire to be.