Being Human

What is it about being human that’s so difficult?

I watch fellow and fellow-ettes stumble through the moments – distracted by life’s immediate concerns – surviving, it seems, to get to the next unchecked box … all the while piling this thought on top of the silent, maniacal agenda of one-thousand to-do’s inside my brain. We’re on the go. Constantly. Listening to the lists in our brains. The never ending go-heres and do-thats are always in control. We give them permission to spin our hamster wheel of time.

Today, on Facebook:

“What kind of crazy world is this? I had no time to check Facebook, text messages, or my email while in a fast food drive-thru line this afternoon. Five cars back from the order speaker when I pulled in the lot. I thought I had time. NOPE

After ordering, between that speaker and the pick-up window. I thought I had time. NOPE

At the pick-up window … PLEASE just ten seconds to check my texts? I thought I had time. NOPE

At least today, the efficiency of Taco Bell on Plank Road reminded me I rely waaaaay to much on my phone. One day. One day all of us may look up from our phones and notice someone may not be there … and say to ourselves, “I thought I had more time.”

I know these three burrito supremes by my side right now, texts, and social media misses may not seem so important then. I also am aware this isn’t an original thought – just a reminder our time is short and we should long for what is important in our lives: friends and family.”

I pulled over to write those words – seconds after a warm bag of burritos were handed to me through the Taco Bell window. Ironically, five small paragraphs into an impersonal cell phone. This very machine, so distractingly oblivious to my plea, rested comfortably in my hand. I was alone with human thoughts – as the overly used saying goes. Oh, and very hungry.

Go back to December, 2020. Psychology Today magazine published a small article written by Camilla Pang titled, “How to Be Human”. Whether it was the smell of Mexican fare sitting off to my right or the kindness of the young lady at the window only minutes prior, notions of humanity – that is, “being human” – struck my fancy. Specifically, Ms. Pang’s article flew back into my mind as I remembered her pose as well as the articulate, short column she wrote about relationships and chemical bonds.

Chris McAndrew, Psychology Today, December 2020

I see this look a lot. It’s so familiar. Being human, to most in my life, is responding non-verbally in this manner. The blank, unfazed, stare of unbelief … that is, a look of, “Did I just hear what I just heard?” … I almost always humbly interpret as, “That was so genius, I have no words …”. (Insert face plant emoji here). Seeing her face printed on the very last page of a periodical last month – inserted between a two minute read of humanism – left a mark on my memory that drippled on my lap today, over to my phone, now into a blog.

Being human means relationships with others. Therein lies the difficulty. Early on in life, Ms. Pang asked her mother “… whether there was an instruction manual for humans”, because she laughed when no one else did and specifics weren’t clear when others talked (“I’ll be back soon” … How soon?, she’d inquire). Through a battery of tests, she was diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, and autism. As would be the case in her pursuit of a doctorate in bioinformatics, she dug into the science of relationships. That is, the chemistry supporting two people either dancing toward each other in a daisy field or lazily sipping octogenarian tea on a warm porch summer life look-back.

There are so many difficulties along the way. Ms. Pang doesn’t address those. She can’t, of course, in a one page article. Leading with her one challenge, however, was huge. Not being able to understand human relationships on an emotional level … well … who can, really? Her personal petri dish approach was perfect for her and, maybe, we can learn something.

She continues, “In terms of relationships, I think about chemical bonds. You can model the tightness, the flexibility, the distribution of effort in different contexts”.

Bear with me for a decades review of my Sophomore chemistry class. The classroom wasn’t very friendly to this, err, quite bored musician who – at best – only cared to know how to light the bunsen burner safely without planting classmates on the drop ceiling hanging above my less than patient foggy-goggle teacher. Covalent Bonds form when electrons are shared between atoms and are attracted by the nuclei of both atoms. In pure covalent bonds, the electrons are shared equally. Ionic Bonds are chemical bonds where two atoms or molecules are connected to each other by electrostatic attraction. Finally, Weak Force is a fundamental force of nature that underlies some forms of radioactivity, governs the decay of unstable subatomic particles such as mesons.

Ms. Pang parallels the above chemical bonds with relational bonds. Friendship and marriage being the Covalent Bond, of course … an equivalence and stability. An agreement between two people concerning who takes out the trash, scrubs the dried adult play-doh off the walls, babysits the kangaroo, and restacks all the oversized fuzzy dice toppled over from last night’s toga party. Ionic Bonds are fantastically intense and energetic … that moment when a complete stranger or lifelong friend trips over your shoelace, looks up with a grateful smile, silently thanking you for catching them mid-fall, … and you realize a frozen second’s time is a lifetime ahead for you to just hold that face in your heart. You don’t want to let go of their arm, but have to because another human saved them from themselves a while ago.

Instincts and gut feelings round out the three as Weak Bonds. Radioactive decay – manifesting as gas lighting and manipulation – create a very toxic environment and this is where being human is so difficult. As Ms. Pang ends the article, “…the relationships that don’t sit well in your stomach. Forces like those (three) can challenge your own evolution – whether you should stay put or leave. It’s not just about making bonds but also about breaking them and continuing to grow”.

So it comes down to this: “Should I stay or should I go?”, according to the 1981 English punk rock band, The Clash. Why bring this up? Did Ms. Pang? Nope. Highly doubtful she knows the band or the song and I’m quite sure the line, “This indecision’s bugging me”, part way through would drive her a bit buggy. I also am not sure she knows the English line, “Bond, James Bond”. James, chemistry, double-oh-seven, or investment grade triple A … all bonds aren’t the same.

I see the bonds we make on a larger scale. Being human gives us opportunity to bond with our opinions about politics, religion, evolution, immigration, universal healthcare, capital punishment, gun control, animal rights, vaccines, … really anything that has two sides. We develop an emotional connection with our opinions – to a fault – and this is where there’s a slight separation from Ms. Pang. Not from her three chemical swabs in the lab, but in their application. Her thesis connects two people, mine connects one human to an opinion. At no time in our history more glaring than the past few months.

Some have a very strong Covalent Bond to their opinion. They’re married to it for life. No amount of logical, sane, calming, influential, reasonable dialogue will ever convince them to leave that matrimonial commitment to their ideals. Those ideals, in return, provide them a sense of comfort through others who feel exactly the same way.

An Ionic opinion bond happens when a person of one political, religious, or social crowd is convinced, suddenly, by the power of his or her peers, to join the majority because “it’s the right thing to do for the good of (insert higher cause here)“. Majority defined, of course, by only that influencer, not by science.

Lastly, the difficult Weak Bond. The toughest among the relational bonds and the boldest and bravest to exercise on the list of opinion-bonds as well. Recognizing the opinion that doesn’t sit right in your stomach … the gut feeling that won’t go away every time an influencer of ill-will tempts you to say and/or do something quirky … that “uh-oh” kinda red light blinking in front of your conscience … should be the warnings to walk away.

Ms. Pang’s final words challenge our own evolution and put us in charge of the same. We’re human, after all, and are bound to our opinions and relationships until we decide to change them. Both are a hamster wheel. Constantly difficult and always on the go. I know of no human who doesn’t struggle with life at some level. Just today, I met a young lady who was distraught over the impending death of her dear mother – who thought she had time.

Sharing those few moments is humanism at its most raw form and was a time of Covalent Bonding between two strangers who are now friends. No opinions exchanged. Just emotions shared.

Sometimes being human is nice.