What does it mean to be human anyway?

A key part of being a real person, a human being, is showing up, especially when it is difficult, particularly when it is frightening to do so.

Showing up counts for a lot.


Because it is scarce.

Someone who will comfort you on the phone in the middle of the night, then throw on a bathrobe and drive to your house. That is precious.

Someone who tells you the truth.

Someone who exposes herself, is present, connected and vulnerable.

Someone who calls you when you are sick, visit you at the hospital and goes to check on your kids, if they are keeping well.

These are the things we seek out as people, and yet we rarely find them.

People are too busy chasing deadlines and goals to have a moment to check up on you.

And yet we are rarely willing to be this person.

We built institutions, organisations and religions to make it easy to avoid being this person.

We see humans, but we don’t see humanity.

The rules and principles and jobs and buildings and code words and admonitions… they all exist to protect us from the truths we are afraid of and from the interactions we would rather not have.

They organise us, and organisation is a wonderful way to be protected, to hide.

We are not allowed to bring emotions and feelings to work, we are not paid for that, we are paid to follow rules and procedures, to produce reports, formal reports, reports without a soul.

People are stats at public hospitals, stats at road fatalities, stats for census, stats at unnecessary wars fought to prove who is more powerful.

People are stats to a sales consultant, his job is to increase the numbers so that he can get a bonus.

Politicians are concerned about the number of people to get them into office, once they are in office, they are concerned about themselves and their close colleagues. To them, people are a means to an end.

So many humans, so little humanity.

People have been turned into a number of followers on social media, a number that is meant to be increased to show popularity.

People are products to be sold by attention merchants in exchange for advertising revenue.

“I harass, arrest, torture and shoot people who are not like me because I’m following orders from my captain.”

We go to work and we hide. We hide behind policies and procedures.

We become inhumane and hide behind the religion of our brand, our bosses, our team or our employment contract.

We see poverty and we look the other way. We see a homeless person at the intersection in front of us and we pretend we don’t see them.

We go to a foreign country and we play tourist, we only visit 5 star places because going to real places that makes a country is too difficult, too risky, too exposed.

Showing up counts for a lot.

Once upon a time there was humanity.

When we show up, we connect, we make change, we are transparent, we are vulnerable and yes, we are human. 

As Mother Teresa said:

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

In my TEDxMahikeng talk, I share my thoughts about the ancient isiZulu word and greeting, Sawubona, the principle and importance of seeing others, I hope it makes sense:

One thought on “Being Human: Why is it so difficult to be human?

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