Of all of the (many) pages that I’ve written for this site, I think this one was the most difficult to do, as a humanities major (anthropology), I’m constantly aware of the humanities and the joys and sorrows that come with disciplines that center around of the most difficult subjects of all- humans. What does it mean to be human? This is a question I’ve grappled with most of my life. As a self-identified empath, I’ve always struggled with my hyperactive emotions. When others weep, I sob with them. This is a blessing and a curse, but in the humanities, this is just a fact of life. For me, the humanities is home. It’s where one is encouraged to be raw and vulnerable enough to make themselves a subject of inquiry, exploring their biases and shortcoming to best understand the lens that they use to explore the world. It’s about gaining knowledge and a craving for answers that never goes away, even though most questions aren’t set up to be boxed in with a singular correct answer. Each unit, I’ve expanded my definition of the humanities. Even today, after all is said and done, I’m learning about a world that’s always growing, with ten questions more for every one answer solved. These aren’t organized in a linear fashion, but rather in a format that connects them all.
Perspective– Dr. Tamura has posed the question of ‘who is savage’ many times. This reflexivity to see where one is in relation to another is critical to the humanities. Human categorizations exist, both biologically and socially, and gaining insight into their relations with one another is essential to understand our humanness. Perspective is also essential when evaluating what we know versus what we think we know. Being aware of our own humanity and inherent flaws is essential to the humanities.
Empathy– Without empathy, we can have no hope. There are so many nuances to humans, but I have to believe in our ability to empathize. Our differences are who we are, but different isn’t synonymous with division. We must learn to look at who a person is, not what they look like, who they love, what they’ve done, but rather who they are. This task isn’t easy, but it’s perhaps the most important task as someone in the humanities.
Emotion– Our emotions, more than any other area of disciplines, are a guiding principle. We value stories of all people, because the humanities focuses on humans, not humans who could be boxed into a singularity that would only confine them. These boxes, whether that be race, sexuality, gender, or something else are incredibly relevant to who we are as humans, but each one of us is so much more than one label. These labels impact perception but are not required to be internalized.
Experience– Doing is an extension of our processing as humans. We, to varying extents, chose what we do and what we don’t do. Our experiences are tied to our emotions, and fear can be a power motivator to inhibit our ability to grow. A place of growth that I hold as an essential for the humanities is discomfort. We must do the thing that makes us uncomfortable. Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and a 2020 Davidson College guest speaker, spoke passionately in his lecture about “getting proximate”. Distance is safe, comfortable, but often not generative. You can’t learn about people without doing the work to better understand them, and understanding anyone is impossible from a bubble.
Survival– This reality is not often reflected upon as an essential value in understanding the humanities, but I think we have to consider the lack of choice instead of the presumption of complete control. One example that articulates this example well is who people became in the Holocaust. Trying to survive became the primary objective for many, with humanity becoming the secondary priority. When your loved ones are on death’s doorstep, we as humans can only speculate what we might possibly do. The humanities goes beyond blanket statements that lack substance and nuance, instead taking an intricate approach to understanding the decisions people make in times of crisis and peril. Being cognizant of this, in addition, forces us to check our possible privilege regarding what (we think) we might do in those situations, and again coming from a place of shared humanity and empathy rather than a supposed moral high ground.
Silence– Silence, in this case, goes far beyond the absence of noise. Silence speaks to the erasure of stories whose lives weren’t documented (a Western tradition) or passed on. These gaps can be created by barriers in understanding, through language and culture. One of the silences that was presented in our Humanities course came about in Dr. Bory’s unit. What silences exist when we only “count” experiences and stories told through text. If we expand our definitions to include stories told through the flesh rather than the bone (Taylor, The Archive and The Repertoire), then can allow ourselves to begin telling stories far beyond Western traditions, expanding our definition of humanities to include what is articulated through words and what is not.
Chaos- Finally, despite all factors that emphasize inclusivity and perspective internally and externally, some things don’t go according to plan. That aspect has defined humans, despite our best efforts not to be flawed. Our flaws are also who we are, and with that comes the truth that sometimes things go to sh*t. We let fear and hatred drive us, we place ourselves over the collective good, and we try to accomplish things with the best intentions (maybe) that fail miserably. One of the most difficult challenges for myself, even as a humanities major, is letting go and accepting the imperfections. Even this website had gone through countless forms, because I refused to accept anything less than perfect. Then, the quality became less than great because I didn’t extend myself the same grace I expect to extend others. We, as researchers and humanities people must be self-reflexive, vulnerable, and honest in order to be our best selves for our work.
The humanities nor the Humanities is perfect. We all make mistakes and are short-sighted. This prescriptive definition tells all that the humanities can and should be. We have the ability to be a beacon of light and an example for other disciplines whose subjects are not strictly human; no career happens in a complete bubble, and no matter who you are, we can all work to be aware of our humanness.