I know he’s not for everyone, but I love Tom Robbins. He writes about about our dark sides and neurotic tendencies as though they're to be appreciated and understood through humor, through self awareness, and through pleasure.
And he’s always spot on. The man understands human beings, and—most importantly—he understands what potential lays within each of us, and appears hell-bent on coaxing it out.
Recently a friend lent me Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates.
There's a philosophy in the book about what it means to be human, and it stuck with me, both for the simplicity and profundity it contains.
The idea is that the characters in the book believe that the human race is not all one species, but exists as a continuum between two poles: on one end we find the "Missing Links," and on the other end we find "real" human beings.
It's heavily weighted towards the Missing Links, estimated to be about 95% of the population. While they appear human, Missing Links tend to be easy to manipulate, lack critical thinking, are highly reactive, and have little compassion.
Not surprisingly, they tend to be far less happy than ‘real’ humans.
Human beings, on the other hand, possess six distinct characteristics that allow them to express and experience their full potential.
These are the six qualities that make us fully human:
The ability to laugh—to find life funny and entertaining—is key. Robbins’ characters focus a lot on this particular trait, believing it to be possibly the most important of the six. I agree. If you’re not laughing, you’ve missed the point of this existence.
Sadly, we all have the capacity for great imagination and creativity but our goofy society tends to educate it out of us fairly early on. Our human awareness, which also gives us the capacity for abstract thought, is our greatest gift, and yet so few of us ever fully use this trait.
Other than bonobos and dolphins, we're the only species on the planet fond of copulating just for copulation’s sake. Sex—the thought, craving, and experience of it—is an essential part of being human.
Of course this characteristic is on a spectrum, like the others. Not everyone is going to have the same intense experience of sexuality, but for it to be there (and cultivated, even) is hugely important. It is nothing to be ashamed of, but is rather a source of power and insight.
Robbins doesn't say that we all need religion or dogma, he argues that a sense of spirituality—a belief and faith in something bigger than our existence—is key. Such awareness is also a wonderful effect of our conscious mind, separating us from the animals with whom we share the planet, and allowing us to live without fear, should we choose.
Tell a human being not to do something, and you're guaranteed they’re going to do it just because it’s forbidden. But our rebelliousness is not something to be trained out of us so that we all fall in line behind each other like good Missing Links. It's a symptom of self expression and exploration.
Human beings are able to perceive beauty in the way that one may perceive the perfection of the universe. We are beauty because we are a part of it, though are also capable of creating and experiencing beauty in millions of different forms. This idea relates to our individual style and appreciation of beautiful things, so often usurped by the impulse to fit in to cultural norms.
And so, what do you think? Is that not one of the most incredibly concise and accurate assessments of ‘what it means to be human’ that you’ve ever encountered?
And…are you a missing link?
The awesome thing is that, should you read this list and find that there are areas in your life where perhaps your humanity is not quite free, the capacity to embody your potential is always there. It doesn't disappear if underused.
These characteristics are not just what defines us, I believe, but also what we create our sense of self, sense of power, sense of importance and pleasure in life from, and are the absolute essential elements to be fulfilled if you wish to be a healthy, balanced human. To be a real human.
Laugh. Imagine great imaginings. Have sex. Trust in the process of your life. Explore and push the boundaries…and know it all (and yourself) to be absolutely beautiful just because you exist.
And a quote to leave you with, just cause it makes me feel so good to read it:
“Our lives are not as limited as we think they are; the world is a wonderfully weird place; consensual reality is significantly flawed; no institution can be trusted, but love does work; all things are possible; and we all could be happy and fulfilled if we only had the guts to be truly free and the wisdom to shrink our egos and quit taking ourselves so damn seriously.”
— Tom Robbins