Benjamin Parris

It doesn’t need to be said, but ‘what does it mean to be human?’ is a big question. A huge question. The kind of question that can capture our imagination, and provide sight where there is none. Then again, the same can be said for the moon. ‘What does it mean to be human?’ is a colossal, looming mass hanging over us, a vital part of everyday existence that is nonetheless ignored by many, unless you happen to be paid to notice it for scientific reasons, or are, God forbid, a romantic. The biggest questions are often the ones most taken for granted (other examples include ‘What is love?’ and ‘Why hasn’t ‘Back to the Future Part II’ come true yet?’). Like I said, ‘What does it mean to be a human?’ is a weighty question, one that must be treated with the respect such gravity (end of the moon analogy) deserves.

Whether the question requires an answer in the first place is something that needs to be addressed, regardless of whether it has been said before. Will answering ‘What does it mean to be human?’ change anything? Hopefully not, because if deciding what it means to be human changes what it means to be human then I will have to start over again. Even if I was to provide an answer, who am I to provide a criterion through which other people can be potentially deemed as sub/super/non-human. I may have been a superb white board monitor, but any more responsibility, and blame for causing a mess, is most certainly beyond me.

Does this kind of thinking really get us anywhere, though? I would argue that it does. I could provide you with many hours’ worth of meandering, whimsical rambling on this topic, without arriving at a conclusion. This is often one of the first steps to finding something much more substantial and worthwhile, and even if nothing comes from it, the exercise in itself provides insight into how we think and practice for that one time a solid conclusion is actually made. It’s like that time you use a bucket and spade to try to dig to Australia: chances are you won’t get there, but it does give you the opportunity to sift through a lot of material, and to get at least some piece of mind from it (plus the deeper the material is, the better it is for building sandcastles when you’re done). Although I am wary of setting down my definitive answer to ‘What does it mean to be human?’, by looking at what I have just written I can at least provide some preliminary ideas as to what my own answer would be if I was presumptuous to give one at all.

Being human is to ramble. Being human is to not take things too seriously. Being human is to make the same mistake again and again; to spend forever going around in circles, laughing at that same silly looking bush each time you pass it in the pathless forest that is life. Human existence should be about throwing everything you’ve got at the wall, and seeing what sticks. None, some, most, all of it may fall off, but it should be you who threw it in the first place. It won’t help to spend too long looking at the patterns that are made by what you throw, you’ve just got to keep throwing and see what happens. This is not some over-dramatized Sisyphean struggle, or a nostalgic ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ slogan on a cooking apron. This is human existence in a life that cannot and should not be captured in a single idea. Stuff happens. Get over yourself. Just hope it keeps happening for as long as possible. This may seem pessimistic, but I find it liberating. Much like the moon (I lied about the end of the moon analogy), we don’t need to be over-analytical about what being human means to appreciate it; it is beautiful, regardless of how we define it. Don’t ignore it, just give it a quiet nod whilst walking down the street once in a while.