What does it mean to be human?

When you google the definition of the word “human” or “human being” a variety of results fill page after page. There is not one single definition for these words. It appears that every one feels that the word means something to them, but there is no consensus on its meaning.

As I think about the last 8 weeks in South Africa, the idea of humanity and acceptance continues to come to mind. I have never thought that people around the world were different; I have always truly believed we all have similarities that connect us and that we are all equal as humans with the same rights. Yet, coming into a new country, especially to a place where there are so many different cultures and people living together, it was easy to think of myself as different from the people around me because of different traditions, heritage and culture than I grew up with. To be clear, I do believe that we are all different individuals, each with our own aspirations, strengths, weaknesses and qualities. However, groups of people seem to easily fall into a category, falling into groups that are either self-selected or imposed and therefore making it easy to see themselves as different from others.

Throughout this trip, I have come again and again to the realization that we are all human. And although that may seem like a broad realization and quite blatant, I think that it is a simple statement that more people could spend time thinking about. We are all human, and therefore we are all connected in some way through our humanity. This connection should lead us to be there for others, not to fight others, should lead us to think that what we are doing affects others, not to live in complete disregard of others, should lead us to be aware of others, and not just ignore life around us.

To illustrate my point, I am going to briefly talk about a few snapshots of the many moments on this trip.

A group of us had the incredible opportunity to meet and hang out with a group of highschool students who are part of a local NGO called Yenza led by Czerina Patel who works for Sonke Gender Justice. We spent the morning discussing everything from politics to what we were interested in studying. There were a lot of differences between the Yenza and Duke groups, and yet we were all together, treating each other like any other group of young adults would be. Although these discussions were really interesting and many times quite profound, the most beautiful part of the day was when we started talking about music. Czerina started playing Adele’s song Someone Like You and immediately the Yenza students started singing. The Duke students quickly joined in, many of us surprised by how well we knew the song. We all belted the song together, in unison, smiling and swaying together. It was an incredible moment, where I really felt like we became one group, where everyone realized that we are all human.

The walk to and from work through Cape Town is another one of my favorite things about our stay in Cape Town. It is one of my most reflective moments of the days, whether it is the morning and every one is starting to open up their shops and start their day, or whether it is the evening when the streets are more crowded, people are going back home and tourists are ready for their afternoon snack and drink. What strikes me about these walks is that I think about how much I feel like I am experiencing humanity while I walk. Every thing about the walk is something that could be found in other parts of the world. We walk by many people every day including those who are homeless, young children, teenagers and elderly, alike. It often makes me think about what put me in the position that I am in. Asking why different people end up in different places in their lives. Making me question what I am doing with my life. I love when we walk down different streets because for the first few steps I feel like I am walking into a different community, and then after a few minutes, I again start thinking about our humanity that connects us all. I think about what makes us different, yet similar.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we should remember that we are all human, remember that the people around us are human, and think about what that means to each of us.


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