What makes us human?

Dr. Ichak Adizes explores the differences between the inanimate and animate, and among different lifeforms, to discover what are the qualities that distinguish us as human beings. Read on to discover what he thinks truly makes us human.

I claim that everything has a life, even stones. There are old stones and new stones. There are young stars and old stars. And by the same token, there are new and old cars. What is the difference between, say, a stone and a tree and an animal? And what is the difference between us humans and animals?

Here is my insight: The difference between inanimate objects and animate objects is, among other things, that inanimate objects do not reproduce themselves. When a stone breaks into pieces for whatever reason, or a star explodes, it is not reproducing itself, it is just falling apart.

Now, what distinguishes trees and vegetables from animals of any kind? It is the brain: the capability of processing information using the brain, which is called reasoning. Next: what distinguishes us humans from animals? We have lungs and hearts and reproductive organs, as they do; and brains, as they do. Admittedly, the human brain is bigger, but is that the major difference – the size of our brains? Then, what about disabled children, who are born with brains that are deficient by human standards? Should we describe them as animals? I would say no.

So what is the difference? Have you ever seen an animal build a temple in order to worship something? Obviously not. We have a system of beliefs: we believe in God (those guys on Wall Street pray to the god called Mammon, and those that deny God exists have their own god they believe in). What distinguishes us from animals is that we serve the god or belief system of our choice.

What about the Nazis? They had a system of beliefs, too. Their belief was that they were called to dominate the world. Were they human, then? They had all the ingredients of being human – eyes, reproductive organs, brains, symbols, the ability to write and read – that animals do not have, but they were not all human. Some of the Nazis had no heart. Otherwise, there is no explanation for how they could have taken innocent children to the ovens.

This brings me to the conclusion that not all gods are equal. There are false gods, idols. Mammon is one of them. The Nazi swastika, which symbolized the superiority of one race over all others, was another idol. The true God is the God of love, the one we serve with our hearts. Those who worship idols, false gods, are animals disguised in a human body. The more we reason – not just with our brains but with our hearts – the more human we are. We have more than consciousness; we have a conscience.

The more we reason – not just with our brains
but with our hearts – the more human we are.
We have more than consciousness;
we have a conscience.

Animals focus on survival. We feel for what is around us, not only for other human beings but also for the suffering of animals and the health of trees, rivers, mountains, the air, and the ocean. We care because our thoughts and feelings transcend the necessary needs of finding a reproductive mate (long-term survival) and finding food and shelter (immediate survival). Our hearts ache and our consciences bother us, because we have interests, goals, and a sense of right and wrong. We go beyond survival. The listening to the heart is what makes us HUMAN.