What is being Human?

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Making meatballs and listening to a CBC documentary Hartley’s Violin, an account of the band playing while the Titanic sank. Incredible fortitude. I remember my mother telling me about it as a child. Links back to yesterday’s entry and my 96 year-old friend trying at the end of her life to “do it right.”

Scientists keep trying to nail what makes us human. They thought it was toolmaking till gorillas were found using tools in the wild. Then language till Washoe was taught sign language. She was the first great ape to be able to communicate feelings by language, including sympathy when one of her carers’ baby died.

How can we doubt – and no longer arrogantly claim as solely human – animals’ love, often more than we deserve. Koko, the gorilla, mourning her kitten vividly demonstrates that. (video)

So, perhaps, if we can’t claim love, loyalty, toolmaking and language, the difference is our ability to make conscious choices. We choose to die with courage, to do what we think is “right”. Of course, so often what we do in the name of virtue is horribly, egregiously wrong – a depth of evil an animal can’t reach.

Although, when you throw in research showing our brains have decided on actions before we are consciously aware, we are a lot more instinctive than we like to think. But it is in those gallant acts like Wallace Hartley‘s and the understated words of Captain Oates, “I am just going outside and may be some time” as he chose death to try and save his team mates, that we make ourselves proud to be human.



About UntraveledRoads

Fascinated by life, looking for answers to chronic pain and finding unexpected gifts. Interested in people, ideas, healing and humour. I am very happily married with three children and a kitten. As English born immigrants to Canada, we have family spread overseas, a daughter in South Africa and one in England. We also run a charity in South Africa to educate black, rural South African Women. Our first girl from a rural township has just graduated as an accountant from Johannesburg University and got a good job in a bank.
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