Words by: Zayan Ismail Art by: Emma Lucas
For Gautama Buddha Manushya is Sanskrit for an animal with a mind or those who can reach enlightenment. For Gods and Goddesses they are mere mortal beings. For Aristotle, it is to have telos or an ultimate aim or an objective in life.
For the delegates that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is those that are part of a larger family, having been recognised of their inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights for the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world. Despite the divisiveness of the societies we belong to with its religions, castes, races, strata, and politics, we all have one thing in common: we are all human beings. A simple concept that has lost its original appeal and we often forget its significance. So what does it truly mean to be human?
Scientifically speaking, we belong to a species with a unique capacity to use our brains to think and articulate the world around us. We have levels of consciousness and intelligence that allow us to converse in different languages.
We have the emotional capacity to feel the highs and lows of life. We can empathise, love, hate, laugh, be angry, feel sad, and sometimes do it all in one day. Being human constitutes the potential to tap into our brains and take control of our actions. It is the ability to create, produce, and manufacture different technologies. Scientists have named the current epoch we live in to be the Anthropocene. It connotes how we as humans are the main drivers of the climate and natural environment. Notwithstanding our control, the science and consensus is clear on our actions on the climate. We as human beings have the potential to destroy, spread hate, and divide our societies.
Anatomically, building on the notions of evolution, we are Homo sapiens.
The participle Sapiens connotes being wise, sensible, and discerning. We are a subspecies of mammals that have evolved to walk on hind legs and connect with one another through judgement and emotional ties. Initially being hunter gatherers, humans have socialised to form communities. Perhaps this is the unique qualification of being human; it is our ability to connect that has led to new discoveries and the era of technological advancement.
Indeed, our technologies are connecting us throughout these difficult times. The period of enlightenment and the advancement of science has led us to the discovery of medical treatments and vaccines. It has saved our communities from deadly diseases and improved our overall health. Humanity is continuing in its effort to persevere despite the circumstances.
On a more social level, humans are indeed civic and communal creatures. The thirst for societal organisation led to the formation of civilisations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Greece and Rome. From a very early period, we understood the power of individuals and the ability to control populations via governance. Whether it be through democracy or autocratic despots, humanity has understood the wielding power of politics to assemble and voice one’s opinion. Throughout history, people have sought justice, liberty and freedom from tyranny. The human endeavour continues to fight for and provide those fundamental rights aforementioned in the charter of the United Nations.
When it all boils down to one single question, humanity becomes hard to properly define in a succinct response. Humans are a mixed bag of identities, varied in colours, opinions, and abilities. It could be down to science, biology, even our minds and our actions. To be human is to embrace all these aspects of our being, it is to appreciate the flaws and work towards doing good. Despite the purported divisions, we are all part of one special mould. It is our humanity that connects us all.