So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you … And consider for a moment the bigger picture: your planet, I’ll remind you, is not the center of its solar system, your solar system is not the center of its galaxy, your galaxy is not the center of the universe. In fact, astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it.
~David McCullough Jr., 2012 commencement speech at Wellesley High School
Are we special? People have always wanted to believe that human beings sit at the center of the universe, that we are fundamentally better than the rest of the animal kingdom. But then Galileo revealed that the sun is the center of our solar system. Charles Darwin showed us that we are basically just bald apes with big brains and poorly designed skeletons. The Laws of Thermodynamics actually suggest that life arises only from the sun’s need to dissipate energy. Leave molecules under a heat source long enough, and they will organize, metabolize, colonize, and replicate. It might take a billion years, but as long as there are stars in the sky to heat up the cosmos, living creatures will be a natural by-product. I guess this ability to dissipate heat efficiently makes us special, but then again, who knows how many extraterrestrials are out there somewhere dissipating even more efficiently?
But humans must be special, right? If we aren’t special, we are insignificant, which is just a tiny step away from being dead. Humans share DNA with every organism that has ever existed. Yet the odds of our being born with our particular DNA code are one in four hundred trillion. This means that all humans are simultaneously exactly alike – and nothing alike.
So we’re both particular and collective, Man but just matter, extraordinary and run-of-the-mill, a singular being that acts like a god. Maybe asking if we’re special is the wrong question.
Care not how special or unique you are. Care not for your accolades or achievements, for your popularity or prosperity or productivity. It doesn’t matter how famous or successful society deems us. Because that ultimately focuses on the individual rather than the collective.
The right question isn’t Am I special? It should be What is humanity?
Tell me how human you are.
Don’t just sleep, eat, procreate, and maintain homeostasis. Work towards being a good human, a better human, one that sits at the feet of death, discomfort, and despair rather than running toward some shiny distraction. One that quietly befriends all the voices in her head. One that moves toward love, despite all the cultural evidence that love doesn’t exist.
Be compassionate and grateful, but call your congresswoman. Listen and forgive and laugh at corny jokes. Have deeper, more informed conversations. Be angry when anger is warranted and channel that anger into social justice. Do the hard work of being here in this particular body in this particular age of earth. Identify the ways you matter and use that information to drive positive change. Be the one that says a holy yes to all the things as they are, with an eye to improving them.
You’re just matter. But you do matter. Decide how much. Be the reason someone else believes in good humans too.