What Makes Us Human?

By Mohammad Ali (Phd Fellow, JMI) for WordForPeace.com

Philosophy: love or, say, thirst for knowledge began in order to understand the place of man in the universe. It contemplated questions, such as what man requires to become a legitimate inhabitant on Earth. Evidently, there were many answers concerning various aspects of man’s life and its relationship to the world. Those who acquired the high level of thinking often viewed emotions as the directing force of man’s actions. They could distinguish the importance of the emotions as the architects of values. If someone rightly interprets his emotions, he could be a man of sublime values. It is worth questioning that if at the core, the emotions are universal, then why values of a particular society are different from the other’s, and sometimes even contrasting?  They would say that it is because people in different societies interpret their emotions differently. Their understanding or interpretation may be affected by a particular geography, politics, religion etc. It is just a matter of interpretation that completely alters the universal values. The combination of these two things determines the track of a people or a society. If the interpretation of their emotions is in favour of humanity, humanity embraces them tightly with its arms. Otherwise, the values constructed due to incorrect interpretation are destructive for and despised by humanity. Values based on incorrect interpretation deprive humanity of dignity and respect.  

Philosophers differentiated a man from a human on the basis of the values they possessed. For good values elevate man to the status of human, they thought.

When these philosophers deeply contemplated emotions, they found that love and empathy are the most sublime. To be in love with someone or something implies to have a passionate attachment or desire for the thing or the person. This feeling of love makes one kind and caring. Though, this emotion is pleasant, compassionate, and strong, it is somewhat restricted.  It comes along with aesthetics and closeness in relationship. It is not common to be in love with those who seem ugly, or are unfriendly, or do not belong to the same community. Therefore, empathy is understood to be superior to love. Love stimulates one’s feelings for, and carves out an image—most of the time fictitious—of the beloved. The lover believes in that image and sees the beloved through it. In other words, the philosophers regarded love as a projection of one’s imagination on other things, for the lover’s own pleasure. Empathy, however, is different and amazing in terms of man’s relationship to the other beings, as it motivates man to feel and understand an individual’s situation, a cognitive and emotional exercise that could inspire compassion. In a state of empathy, a man tries to morph his/her person into the one he is emphatic with, by trying to recognize the real state of things, to understand their situations, and feel for them. It does not matter to the individual whether the object of empathy has pleasant or unpleasant qualities, such as beauty or ugliness to the supposed aesthetics of a society.

So, the philosophers celebrated these emotions, love and empathy, and thus motivating man to a aspired to be elevated to this exalted state of humanity. However, in the modern world, man has distorted the meaning of these emotions that has blurred his understanding of them. Because of this, man has ceased to respect others’ lives, emotions, and values; he has lost empathy. He should understand that the real issue of this world is the humanitarian crisis, where we are suffering from the deficiency of human dignity. Taking the example of those earliest philosophers, the solution to this crisis lies in the true interpretation of these emotions.

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