- When people realize they’ve made a mistake, they say ‘I’m only human’.
- When people feel like they can’t achieve any more, they say “I’m only human”.
- When people feel like they’ve lost control of themselves, they say “I’m only human”.
But what do those words actually mean? That ‘being human’ is some kind of weakness? That it is a disadvantage?
What if there wasn’t anything “only” about being human?
Realizing that you’ve made a mistake means that you have the ability of self-awareness. Not a lot of creatures are capable of such a simple act that we take for granted. Animals can be disciplined or tamed, but they can’t learn from their mistakes like we can, and plants don’t know or care if they’re growing in somebody’s way. They just do whatever their instincts tell them. Self awareness is an invaluable tool so that we can learn from our mistakes and know how to do it right next time.
As humans we have the ability to push ourselves beyond what we are capable of right now. We have the power of imagination, and the power of dreams to fuel us. Who knew a hundred years ago that you would be able to grab almost any piece of information in the world by just waving your fingers? Where you put limitations today, might not be there tomorrow.
Bruce Lee is one of my greatest heroes. Not only did he push his body to almost superhuman levels, he changed many lives with his philosophical teachings. He said,
If you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality and into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.
We shouldn’t underestimate ourselves. I just finished reading The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins and if there’s one thing I learnt is that humans are unique in that we can override our genetic programming that tells us to constantly eat, sleep and breed. We don’t have to be lazy, greedy or aggressive. Instead, we spend our time and energy doing greater things like educating ourselves, getting really fit and helping others.
And why should we help others? Because we’re lucky enough to have a conscience – an inner sense of what is right and wrong. We are capable of following a morality system that reduces suffering and increases happiness. We have the ability to control our desires and emotions so that some people don’t have to eat like dogs whilst others live like kings.
So on that note, yes being human is fantastic, but it doesn’t give us the right to lord it over other people or creatures. This wasn’t an arrogant horn tooting about how great we are. Humans have done incredibly stupid and harmful things throughout history. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. But for every warlord there was a saint. For every act of cruelty, there is an act of kindness. Yes, we do make mistakes, but we can achieve great things too, because we’re human after all.