Being Human

Sep 02, 2016
Tagged with: Being Human


In 2008, the United Nations declared August 19th as World Humanitarian Day. This year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “World Humanitarian Day is an annual reminder of the need to act to alleviate suffering. It is also an occasion to honor the humanitarian workers and volunteers toiling on the frontlines of crises. I pay tribute to these dedicated women and men who brave danger to help others at far greater risk.”

A humanitarian is someone who works to improve the lives of others. A human being is part of the species, homo sapiens, who is differentiated from other species by superior mental development, articulate speech, and upright stance.  Really?  Is that what makes us human?  I don’t think so.

Which leads me to the question, what does being human mean? As I ask myself this question, I wonder what being human means to you, too.

Here is my stab at figuring out what being human means to me: I think we are all in this life business together, that there is NO them, only us.  The times in my life when I have felt most alive and happy are connected to being with and hopefully helping or being helped by another human being.

What does each of us know about being human that no one else knows quite the way we do. What can I learn from someone living with Parkinson’s Disease?  Maybe they know something about moving through life at a slower pace that we could all benefit from.  What about the person who does not speak with language?  What forms of communication can we learn from them?  How can we become more humane in our architecture – creating spaces that are not just accessible, but welcoming.

As I seek to understand this life as a human, I find myself looking to the poets, particularly the 12th century poet, Rumi. He had this to say about being human:

This being human is a guest house

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.


And now, dear reader, what say you, about being human?


Author: Elizabeth Vander Kamp

  • bobl07

    Great question! What it means to be human to me is to be compassionate. Compassionate to human strife yet determined to intervene but not to the point of sympathy. To accept the strike that we all endure yet being attentive and not disconnected.

  • Elizabeth Vander Kamp

    Thank you, Bob, for your thoughtful answer! Yes, where in the world would we be without compassion and attentiveness!