What It Means To Be Human

by Jess Chan

Being human is a funny thing. It’s not really something we are, but something we experience. And part of that experience is connecting with other humans. In fact, I’d argue that’s what it’s really about — connecting with other humans.

Connecting with other people… it’s an experience that can’t be manufactured or forced. It can’t even be planned. It’s unexpected and its always, always surprising. Human connection isn’t networking. It’s not building a list or even catching up with a friend. Those activities are tiring. Human connection is something we can never tire of. It makes us who we are.

It’s a distinctly human experience. And it’s something you know when you’ve experienced it — not everyone has. It’s when you see yourself in another person, and you see another person in yourself. It’s when you learn about someone and that teaches you more about yourself. It’s when you can truly be yourself in a way you didn’t even know existed.

We instinctively crave human connection without even knowing it. We think we can find it just by interacting with the people around us, but interacting and connecting aren’t the same. One can exist without the other — and we often interact without connecting. Interacting is something we do. Connecting is something we experience.

I’ve had the fortune to experience human connection multiple times in my life. Some of those moments were with close friends and others were with strangers. And I’ve found that we can only experience human connection when we are being human. Being human means to:

Be Curious

“There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.” G.K. Chesterton

If you’re bored of someone, you’re the boring one. No matter how different you think you are from someone, there’s one thing you share with everyone else: the experience of being human. Next time you’re sitting across from someone, be curious.

Be curious about what made them who they’ve become today. Be curious about the experiences they’ve had. Be curious about the thoughts they’re thinking. Be curious about how the world looks through their eyes. Be curious about what’s broken them and what they’ve had to fight for. Be curious about times they’ve had to be strong. Be curious about who they are because it’s fascinating.

Be Vulnerable

“Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous.” Brene Brown

When you’re vulnerable, you become a mirror that others can recognize their humanity in. Vulnerability isn’t weakness, it’s strength. It’s the strength to share everything about you that others could be curious about. You have a story to share and things to tell others. Not being vulnerable is selfish. You have so much to offer the world when you’re raw and real. Vulnerability doesn’t have to be dark. It doesn’t have to be about your pain or suffering. To share the things that make you happy and the things you’re excited for — that’s vulnerability. To share your hopes for the future and the change you wish to make in the world — that’s vulnerability too. Don’t be selfish, be vulnerable.

Be There

“Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.” Thich Nhat Hanh

When you’re connecting with another human, it’s not about you. It’s not even about them. It’s about the experience you’re sharing with them in that moment. It takes both of you to experience it together, in the present, for it to happen. And the only way you can experience it is if you’re there. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually there. Don’t think about what you should be saying next, don’t think about how you look or what they might mean. Just be there.

Jess Chan is the creator of Thirty Days, a blog & community for figuring life out. Join the Thirty Days community by subscribing to our free newsletter & instantly get our Starter Pack to designing a life you love.

Originally published at medium.com on February 10, 2017.