“I’m only human. Of flesh and blood I’m made. Human. Born to make mistakes.” ~The Human League
We often speak of being human as something we have accomplished, as if being human is something to be proud of rather than a weight around our necks. But maybe it is precisely the latter, as being human carries with it a wealth of responsibilities we don’t attribute to any other species. As human beings we are tasked with being citizens, of thinking of the feelings of others, of taking care of our young, and of taking care of our old, among many other duties.
And when one of us shirks those responsibilities, when one of us doesn’t carry out our perceived duties, that person is ostracized, or celebrated, or both.
See, I look at Facebook posts every day, and whenever I see one side of the human equation, I see an equal and opposite side, just as forceful, just as vehement, both proclaiming to be the sole arbiter of the human condition. But there is, of course, no sole arbiter of the human condition. There is simply the condition itself, for all that’s worth.
There are those who believe we, as human beings, are inherently good. I see their memes celebrating difference, that we are all part of one race, one nature, and one creed — that is to do unto others as we would have done to ourselves. This side of the equation is always surprised when bad things happen to good people, when kids are shot down in the schoolyard, when any crime perpetrated by humans occurs, as a matter of fact. They post and share their opinions like they’re going out of style.
On the other side of the spectrum exists those who think everyone has a side angle, who think that anyone who does a good deed is doing it for some kind of selfish purpose, for some kind of kickback. These people are ashamed to be human because they know all the horrible acts human beings are capable of, because they’re seen it firsthand, or because they just haven’t bought the rose-colored glasses worn by those on the other side of the equation. They are never surprised when bad things happen to good people because they don’t believe there are bad and good people. They believe that whatever they do speaks for itself.
But being human is never black and white. It’s not the sum of its parts, not obvious in any way, shape or form. Being human means being able to process that we are all and none at the same time. We are people capable of the most outstanding art, of the most phenomenal music, of everything that’s beautiful in our world. While at the same time we are also capable of the most nefarious acts, of being the “devil in blue jeans” we were warned about as kids.
Why are we so surprised when celebrities or politicians get caught with their pants down? It’s the human condition to be dissatisfied with what we have, to yearn for something different. It’s the human condition to disappoint both ourselves and others, because the standards we hold everyone (except for ourselves) up to are impossible for even perfect beings. And we all know that there has never been a human born who was perfect. So why do we spend so much time and energy railing against those who don’t fit into our self-satisfied contrivances?
I think we do it because we can’t stand not having a solid definition for what makes us human. Is it our ability to make decisions apart from instinct? Is it our capacity for compassion? Or is it something less solid, something that has absolutely nothing to do with our inherent goodness or our tendency for evil? Perhaps we have been tying it all together, judging each other (and ourselves) on something that we can’t truly judge because we don’t have all the facts. Because each of us is an individual, and because the human condition is not a shared condition.
It is each of us, separately, living our own lives, following what we feel is the correct path for us. It is something that we will get judged for no matter which path we follow, no matter if we are those who are optimists or if we fit into the realist category. The only thing that the human condition has in common between us all is that we are all born to it, for better or for worse. Being human means we are all arbiters of ourselves and of our own decisions.
Nothing more. And nothing less.