Seven Things That Make Us Human


Author: Agustín Fuentes

Being big brained, upright, ex-apes — We are the last living representatives of a long lineage derived from ape-like ancestors. Thanks to the anthropologist Jon Marks for coining the term “ex-ape.”

Irony — Given our social and political realities, we are constantly immersing ourselves in irony (and usually not realizing it). Related to this ability, humans also have the uncanny distinction of being simultaneously the best and worst joke-tellers on the planet.

Imagination — We humans are forever blessed and eternally doomed to always see the world as more than what can be felt, seen, smelled, tasted or heard.

Hope — In spite of all the horrors in the world, this remains one of our most powerful capacities.

Compassion/Cruelty — Being human comes with the remarkable and seemingly boundless ability for compassion and its mirror opposite, cruelty. We are by far the best at both.

Community — We become fully human by being with other humans; it is by interacting, learning from and being with other humans that we realize our full potential.

Responsibility — Humans’ trick to success as a species is our capacity to reshape the world around us to better suit our needs . . . but with this ability comes the awesome responsibility to make sure our success is not always at the expense of others. Let us not forget that.

Agustín Fuentes is a professor and chair of Notre Dame’s Department of Anthropology.

The magazine welcomes comments, but we do ask that they be on topic and civil. Read our full comment policy.