A couple of blog posts I’ve read over the last week have me pondering on ‘man’ and in this instance I use the term universally.
What makes us different to beasts?
Is it only things like our ability to reason? Our ability to use our brain to weigh things up and make a choice based on information rather than from instinct alone?
Or the fact that we’ve developed a secondary thought process which enables us to overcome our primary instincts?
Learned to build a fire?
Invented the wheel?
Fashion clothing to cover our naked selves?
I truly hope not.
Perhaps I’m idealistic – hell, I know I am – but I’d like to think its for a whole host of reasons. Some tangible and some not.
I’d like to think one of the reasons is our ability to appreciate art.
I say appreciate, rather than make, because how can one view a bee’s honeycomb nest and not see art? Or an intricately made bird’s nest?
But man can look upon the art of another and wonder. He can be inspired by it. Changed by it. Learn from it. He can analyze, remember, and even to a point, replicate it.
I’d like to think it’s our ability to empathise, though having said that, I’ve seen countless video clips of animals being kind to and helping others not of their species.
I’d like to think its our ability to dream. To wonder. To gaze in awe.
I mean, we wanted to fly so what did we do? We invented planes.
We wanted to breathe under water like fish. Hey presto, scuba gear.
We wanted to cross oceans and explore new lands so we fashioned boats to aid us.
We wanted to capture special moments, tell stories visually, and entertain. Enter television.
We wanted to share sound, our voices, music. Voila. Tape recorders.
The list goes on.
But more than that I like to think it’s our ability to ask questions and look for answers.
I’d like to think its our ability to think abstractly as well as our spirituality. The way we strive beyond the mere instinct to survive. The way there are those among us who want to better the world for others, people they don’t even know or are even born yet.
And morality – to make decisions as to what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong.’ What is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ and live by them.
Man as an individual, as well as a species, has perpetrated the greatest acts of evil, and yet we also are more accountable than any other species, so I’d like to believe our ability to forgive, and yes, to reform, separates us. We strive for justice. We are capable of learning from our mistakes.
Sadly, it is man and not beast who is capable of condescending to beast and man alike. But, yet, man is also the one to be offended by such actions and attitudes.
Again, man not beast, is capable of prejudice. One does not see homophobia in the animal kingdom. But man is capable of change – we can overcome our prejudices.
I’d like to think that one of the reasons, despite our ability to form stereotypes, we can also debunk them. Not all men are pigs. Not all blondes are dumb. Nor all redheads fiery by nature.
But most of all I’d like to think what sets man apart is our humanity.
I’ll leave you with some Nietzsche:
“Man alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.”