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  • Writer's pictureDavid Wallace

What makes a human a "person?"

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

This pandemic time has challenged me immensely. I have been sitting with the discomfort of rising Covid Delta infections and the concern that it is causing to all types of people (myself included) heading into the fall. We all were so excited by the low infection numbers, traveling again, getting together with family and friends, and going to events. We wanted to get "back to normal." I have always understood myself to be a "people person." And by that definition, I get energy by interaction with others. What is this juice that I get?

But what makes a human being a person? This has hit me hard during this time in isolation through the pandemic, contrasted with the joy I felt when I reconnected with family and friends after a solid year plus on lockdown. During this summer, I came across a tv program called ALONE on the History channel. The premise is to take 10 very accomplished "outdoors people" and put them in a very rugged, remote place completely alone. They cannot physically connect with any other person out there because of distance. As you'd expect, they are all very busy in the first days making their shelter, finding a fresh water source and collecting firewood to make their fires. All the while they are trying to catch fish, hunt whatever they can, eat whatever vegetation they can, and try to insulate themselves against predators. Sound daunting? You bet!

But in the first couple of weeks, the people are so busy with getting all that squared away that they have little time to think! It's like our lives when we are so busy running from one meeting to another, taking care of our homes and responsibilities...being human doings. Our roles as employer/employee, father/mother, caregivers, friends and relationship partners give us the energy to "keep on keeping on." My wife and I will always try to guess which person will outlast all the rest to win the half million dollars. We noticed something very interesting. We always guess incorrectly because we base our predictions on those that are very good outdoor people, but discount the emotional and psychological beatings they take. Once the noise of doing slows down and the drag of each day begins, people begin to face their internal thoughts and emotions.

Why are these people that are so good at surviving end up tapping out early? Because they recognize that they can indeed survive there for almost unlimited time, but they don't thrive. Why? Because they lose their sense of fulfillment and purpose. They are just robotic in survival mode.

So back to my initial question: What makes a human being a person? A person is only a "person" by being in relationship with other persons! Human beings were not created to be alone. These people on the tv program ALONE cease being motivated to continue living if they have no one else to share the experience with. Many tap out early to go home to the people they care about (regardless of the fact they are walking away from a half million dollars), sometimes with a renewed sense of gratitude for these relationships and vow to cherish every moment!

This has landed like a rock for me. This is why so many of us are craving reconnection in the wake of this pandemic. The uniqueness of being people is that we thrive by being with other people. Don't get me wrong about taking time alone. We ALL need to take time alone to learn to love ourselves, reflect and recharge. But it's meant to be a shorter interval, allowing us to again re-engage with our world. That includes the challenging as well as the accepting and loving encounters.

I ask all of you to consider a week-long retreat in silence and solitude to see your sense of "self" drop away. But the real beauty is that we have these personalities that let us connect with people that are like us and those that aren't. And that's where we thrive...and learn.

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