As a huge animal lover, I used to get quite upset when people asked me not to treat my puppy like a human being. After all, to me he was like a true friend. However, over time, I started thinking what makes us human, and different from the world of animals, and to what extent we use these distinct features.
I recall four specific unique human endowments, mentioned by Stephen Covey, in his highly famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People that distinguish us from other species. This was the first time I really appreciated the abilities we have as human beings.
The first such unique human endowment is that we humans have the ability to become aware of our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. By slowing down our thinking, we can witness our automated programs that run most of our lives, and thereby take conscious choices. As Victor Frankl explained in his remarkable book, Man’s Search for Meaning it is in the gap between a stimulus and a response that we create our ultimate ability to choose.
The second unique human endowment is that we have the ability to exert willpower, and hence delay gratification. At some level, animals can do this do, but with us human beings it is a skill that we can train in the same way we train our muscles. With increased will power, we are able to voluntarily endure discomfort and pain for long term gains.
The third unique human endowment is that we have the ability to imagine the future. We can picture ourselves in a year from now, living in our dream home with our dream partner, in the same way we can plan ahead the next few moves of a chess game, in our mind.
The final unique human endowment is that we human beings have a conscience, which gives us the inborn ability to distinguish right from wrong. I think of it as that unique voice within, that can guide us to behaving in a morally correct manner, and set up rules that allow a society to flourish.
Becoming aware of these uniquely human features really opened my eyes. They made me think about how human I really was, and the changes I could experience by incorporating them in a more deliberate way. Think about it for a minute: How would your life change, if you increased the ability to visualize your dreams, take deliberate choices, and strengthen your willpower muscle as well as your inner compass?