I’m Stumped
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I’m Stumped

It is all you need

My friend Stephanie who is a brilliant songwriter and musician was recently asked to write a song about the “essence of humanity” for a time capsule project. A tall order indeed so she posed the question to her Facebook friends.

My first thought was that “essence of humanity” sounds like something I would see in a black and white abstract TV ad for perfume with Johnny Depp digging a hole in the desert trying to sound deep while testing the limits of absurdity. I really really want to know why cologne and perfume companies insist on this kind of advertising. Seriously.

Anyway, my next thoughts were about how I would identify the essence of humanity. It seemed impossible. “Essence” is the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, that determines its character…or says one of the surprisingly many definitions on Google. What is the singular indispensable quality of humanity? What do you get if you try to remove everything but our defining characteristic?

I’m still pondering. Would love your thoughts.

Ironically, I think one possible defining characteristic of humanity is its resistance to be boiled down to a single defining characteristic. The moment you try to define who we are, we change. We have somehow managed to master the ability to be incredibly similar and predictable while simultaneously being unique. We are bad and good, generous and selfish, loving and hateful all at once. Our experiences seem to be both universal and entirely our own. Everyone can relate to what you are going through and yet no one can really know what you are going through. And the moment you think you have us all figured out, we will do something completely surprising.

If there is a “theory of everything” that connects and explains all, it mostly seems beyond any wisdom I might possess and so one characteristic of humanity that seems closest to its essence is that we are too complex to be defined by an essence.

And yet, I know in my heart that we could not be defined by what we are not.

The real answer to this question is not waiting to be discovered. The truth is that we have known our essence for as long as we have known another human. There is at least one word for it in every language so far as I know. It is how we are made, our greatest purpose, our most important need and the greatest gift we have to offer. It is who we are at our best and its lack puts us at our worst. It universally defines every aspect of existence by either its presence or absence or some combination thereof.

A wise man once wrote about our essence like this (my own paraphrase).

If I could speak the language of the universe itself but do not have love, I am no more than an empty noise. If I know everything, see everything, understand everything, and if I have a full and complete connection to all things, but I do not have love, then I am nothing. If I always did the right thing in every circumstance to every person at either great self-sacrifice or personal gain, but I do not have love, there can be nothing to be gained by any of it.

Love never fails. But where this is wisdom and knowledge, they will meet their limits and pass to memory or beyond. If you are to look for the essence of humanity and strip everything away but our true nature only three important characteristics remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

And so the task that someone gave to Stephanie is not only easier than it first appeared, it is something she has personally done many many times. Like most songwriters, Stephanie has written many songs about love. In fact, go to Spotify or Apple music and turn to any genre and count the number of songs before one discusses love in its many forms. I’d be surprised if you get past 1.

But the real reason i chose to write some of my thoughts down on this subject is because I needed to remind myself that in the midst of all of the distractions and stress of even a privileged life, it is surprisingly easy to forget that the thing we all need the most is never far away and every single one of us possesses the power to change everything with it.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. It is yours to give and the most important thing you will ever receive.

So, in the words of other songs about our essence, go find yourself somebody to love. It is all you need.

These are my musings on politics, religion, parenting, and the hard work of trying to be a decent human.

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Joshua Stump

I am a Dad, a husband, a son, a brother, a follower of Jesus, a lawyer, a songwriter, and just generally someone with a lot of strong opinions about stuff.