Friday, June 13, 2014

Being "human" not always easy to define

Last week I was walking down a sidewalk when I encountered a mole that had left its hole and somehow waddled across a sidewalk, fell over the curb and was now in danger of being run over by a car, or eventually expiring from a slow death due to a lack of its natural environmental supports. I took out a paper napkin out of my pocket and picked it up; I was surprised by its rather smooth coat of hair. I placed it on the sidewalk and tried to nudge it up the grass embankment toward the its burrow, which apparently it had mistakenly bored through into daylight. Its legless appendages made climbing excessively difficult, so I had to pick it up again and place into near its hole in the ground. The mole’s blindness still prevented any progress in this pursuit, so I had to gently nudge it with my foot until it finally scrambled back into the safety of its home.

While I was engaged thus, a car drove into the parking lot of an adjacent business. An employee got out of the car and seemed “interested” in what I was doing. I don’t know if she actually knew what I was doing; she seemed more focused on me than on any interest in the helpless animal I was trying to save from certain death. When I had accomplished my mission I continued on down the sidewalk as before; however, I couldn’t help but to observe that this other person seemed “relieved” that I was moving on, although she did an unconvincing job of concealing it  in that patronizing way that some white people have toward those of lesser social status. I knew her “interest” only went so far as she was certain I was no longer posed a “threat” to her car. I blurted out that I was more “human” than she was, which I could tell took her by “surprise,” because I’m not really a human being, but a subspecies that only thinks in terms of satisfying “natural” requirements, not anything of a “higher” order.

Of course being “human” can be a complicated thing. Some people lust for money; it gives them a “thrill” just by the idea of accumulating it, even if it is far beyond their requirements and comes at the cost of reducing the living wage of many others. A greedy squirrel may hoard nuts and bury them in seemingly random places where it may never find them again; is this a “human” or “animal” trait? What is the difference? Some might say that being “human” is something that rejects efforts to divide people into widely (and wildly) varying levels of existence. It seems that there is little of what the dictionary defines as “compassion, sympathy, or consideration” for fellow humans among those whose existence is defined by their self-serving cupidity. 

I know a person named Solomon, who obviously comes from a very different culture than this one. I never asked him his religious affiliation, but he is one of the few people I have met who actually believes that God expects him to share what for him passes for good fortune with others he perceives to be less fortunate. It apparently makes him feel right with his maker. He is not a billionaire philanthropist, but makes a humble living driving a short-haul truck. Not far from where I encounter this individual is the Regional Animal Shelter in Kent, and every time I walk past the place the paranoia I always feel emanating from the people within makes me think they think that I am less than the animals they keep; at those times I allow myself to wonder how animals these “compassionate” humans “put to sleep” every month. 

It’s not hard to rationalize what makes a person “human” if you are on the receiving end. To some people you are no more than “The Invisible Man” of the Ralph Ellison novel—not worthy of human consideration, only that which consumes their primal fears; how do this arrogant lack of humanity makes them so much more “human”? We may also ask the same about people with gangbanger pretentions, who want to beat you up or kill you if you don’t “respect” their “humanity”; yet it is difficult to discern what it is that they call “humanity.” Women can be either your best friend—or your worst enemy; sometimes you think the worst in humanity is represented in the latter case.

If you are a certain “ethnicity” in this country, every day you can feel demeaned in some way, based on the stereotypes and prejudices people possess. If you want to arouse a “passionate” response from me, make a false accusation or imply that you think I have “criminal” intent. At work, I can’t help but to observe that things that other people do without being cause of “suspicion” become so when someone sees me doing them, and new “rules” are applied to alleviate “concerns” stemming from those stereotypical or prejudicial attitudes someone has of me. Another thing I cannot help but to observe is that every time someone uses the word “Mexican,” it seems meant to have the same demeaning connotation as any racial slur or insinuation of something subhuman—and it seems perfectly “acceptable” and “expected” to do so. 

I admit that I can’t make the claim that I’m more “human” than others. To be frank, sometimes I think that I’m the only charity case I know; that tends to be true when you live in your own world and avoid human contact unless when necessary. This also has the side effect of allowing people to see in me in whatever aspect they choose to, and act upon those assumptions, whether for good or evil. Being “human” is having the ability to differentiate between the two states of being; some people cannot.

No comments:

Post a Comment