In Omani Arabic, if you want to know what a word means, you say something like, “shoo ya-nee hatha, unknown-word?”. When this is directly translated, it comes out as “What means this, unknown-word?”
So around here, if people wanted to know what I meant by the word “humanity,” they might ask “What means this, ‘humanity'”?
Fair enough, because it is a word with a wide-ish range of meaning and I’m using it here with particular ideas in mind. So I might as well spell it out.
By my dictionary, “humanity” has three main threads:
- the human race; human beings collectively
- the fact or condition of being human; human nature, and
- humaneness; benevolence
When I use “humanity” to describe this blog series, I’m including all of these, and then moving somewhat beyond them. I still chose the word “humanity” because I don’t know of a better English word that encompasses our shared human-ness and the infinite intersections of who we are and what we experience from beginning to end.
Have you ever seen a piece of art – a painting, a statue, a film, a dance, a vista – that hung in your mind long after you encountered it? Something was communicated from its creator to you, and that communication, for me, is rife with humanity.
No other species creates this way, or experiences created things this way. Only us. Only humans.
Have you ever turned your head and caught a scene that overwhelmed you with emotion? I mean the sort of emotion whose description is just beyond your grasp. You weren’t happy, exactly. Or delighted. Or sad. Just… overtaken with the experience of the emotion itself.
There it is again, humanity. Something of our human experience dawning wordlessly when encountering another human experience. This goes beyond “human beings collectively” or “the fact or condition of being human,” but whatever is more about it I haven’t a word for, and anything less about it will hardly do.
Whenever I see a handicapped person making their way in the world, I have that human-dawning-beyond-words experience. Like a blind man crossing the street, or a legless man working a consistent job, or a young child with half their body covered in burns. I don’t feel sad or angry exactly. It’s more like somewhere in the deepest of place of my existence I know that they are the greatest of my kind. What they will fight for in this life will make it so. And yet my kind will be the worst to them.
And at times, I will be one of them.
The best and worst is in each of us. It’s lovely and grotesque and simple and tricky and altogether haunting. For my part, I’m never more human than when I’m taking it all in.
And this month, I get to do that with you, dear reader. And I’m pretty excited.
Want the full scoop? Visit the 31 Days of Humanity Page here.