Only Human?

[I apologize for running very late on this writing. It touches on some deeper issues and after developing it this far, I’ve found that it still feels like an early draft for me. I am posting this version now, but I expect it will evolve over time. If, or when, it does, I will post links at the bottom of this one to allow you to see how it develops over time.]

An all-too-often used phrase bothers me very deeply. The phrase is “I’m only human.” In particular, the word only bothers me the most. It is very degrading. It puts a bad spin on being human. I’m not suggesting that humans are perfect, but I object to defining them as predominantly imperfect. Most humans are both, and everything in between. The cliche “I’m only human” defines being human by our flaws, not our strengths and by our faults, not our merits. What really defines humanity is what we have that most animals do not: intelligence, sentience, reason, communication, and a depth and breadth of emotions not seen in the animal world, including forgiveness and compassion. That takes us straight to a similar cliche that bothers me: “To err is human, to forgive divine.” Yet, humans can forgive. Does that then elevate us to divinity? Or are we still errant humans? And this touches on how most religions define humanity — in particular, by the concept of Original Sin; that we are born sinners and must constantly seek redemption for some act supposedly committed by supposed ancestors millennia ago.

In the song “Human,” by the Human League, a man sings about his infidelity, with the refrain being the excuse “I’m only human, born to make mistakes.” At the end, the woman delivers a line that is probably intended as a zinger, singing, “While you were away, I was human, too.” This defines humans by one of our animalistic flaws — lust.

Just about the only exception I might tolerate to all of this is the use of “I’m only human” not after making some mistake, but when faced with a task that no human could ever accomplish. For example, “I can’t lift this ten ton rock with my bare hands because I am only human.”