Wouldn't it be wonderful if we were able to retain the blissful, uncontaminated state of being with which we entered this crazy mixed up world? I cannot help but reflect on this idealistic thought as I explore the mystery of "being human." You see, I believe in people and in their potential to do great things. While I am acutely aware that we are busy destroying the planet and that some human beings are nasty, I choose, for the next few moments, to shift my focus...
What distinguishes us from all other living creatures? It is without a doubt, our intelligence. We are able to solve problems by thinking analytically. We can also philosophize and be creative and innovative. While I agree that some creatures create things, it is usually for functional purposes only, whereas human beings can create, admire and appreciate theirs, and other people's works of art.
Animals act instinctively, killing their prey to sustain or to defend themselves. Their goals are simple: to eat, sleep, mate and survive. Although human beings are also needs driven, we generally have a greater degree of self-control. We use our sense of morality and our beliefs and values to guide and modify our behaviour.
As human beings, we spend time thinking about the past, present and future. We have developed sophisticated languages in order to communicate with one another and use facial expressions and body language to convey our feelings and intentions. We record history and engage in business transactions. Essentially, we use our intellect in sophisticated ways to acquire goods and services and to bring about change, either on our own or as part of a group or organization.
Unfortunately, statistics reveal that most people simply go through the motions, never stopping to take stock of the quality of their lives. Some blame others and justify their actions rather than take responsibility for them. Others fall into the trap of avoidance, procrastination and denial. They remain stuck rather than exploring their options and seeking help.
"The essential difference between animals and humans...the thing that most clearly differentiates us, is our capacity to self-reflect...the ability to make creative, conscious changes in our internal and external environment based on what we learn on our life's journey." It is when we decide to continue learning and growing that our lives become truly meaningful.
So what does it mean to be human? Our feelings and how we deal with them, lie at the very heart of being human. Our thoughts give rise to those feelings. "To live is to choose, to make endless choices from moment to moment, each and every day." We are always free to learn new and different ways in which to do things. Even in difficult situations, we can choose to react or to respond in a more appropriate way. In order to choose wisely and effectively, though, we need to have developed the ability to observe and examine ourselves, and to have the courage to change our default settings.
What is the wisest strategy to apply, as we navigate through the ups and downs of life? What if we were to live each day as if it were our last? What if we were to first ensure that we had learnt how to bring out the best in ourselves and in others? That would make all the difference...
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