One wonders how like us Neanderthal humans may have been. To be sure, there are countless environmental and even physical differences between us moderns and our ancestors. But, is there a retinue of characteristics that has been with us from the beginning? Love, envy, happiness and despair might be on the start of such a list. Surely, they deserve consideration as perpetual qualities of humanity. What about anger, hope, intellect and generosity? But then, can’t we expect the family dog to exhibit many of these same traits? Is it that these words apply to all creatures on a continuum from amoeba to Homo sapiens?
Does our command over concepts increase with each rung on the life-form ladder? Philosophers have discussed and dissected these kinds of questions for as long as we’ve had language with which to debater the matter. Arriving at a moment when we “know” that we are a being and imagining what that means is a common conception of what might distinguish humans from other higher order animals. But if they lack the ability to communicate with us, is it possible to imagine that they do understand more than we think? Many others point to God’s choice of humans to hold dominion over his earthly creation. Do the animals know of this directive? Did they have one of their own? It all becomes very confusing, very quickly.
In a world where universal truths are hard to come by, we look for common ground. If we can distill the elements that make up our collective humanity, can we hope to better understand one another? In looking at a little closer to home, do we see ourselves and those closest to us with an eye informed by these basic elements? Could it help us understand our spouses? Teenagers? They are humans, aren’t they?