What makes us human?

Jaime Yáñez
6 min readApr 19, 2022
Photo by: Bacila Vlad.

A few days ago, I was reflecting with a Product Owner about the qualities that allow us to be human. We got into a very philosophical mentoring conversation about the qualities that make us and will enable us to remain human. At one point in the powerful conversation, we came to reflect that we are more human when we are children… A child is innocent, without fear, without suspicion. He has an open mind and a pure heart, and all of his senses are available, ready to experience each day. Each new discovery brings you a sense of wonder and curiosity. Can you imagine a team with people like that? Well, that’s how each and every one of the members of a team should be. Still, the reality is that these characteristics cannot be found again in people, possibly due to the evil of “growing up.”

1. Curious

It is something we all have in common. It is what helps us learn, adapt and survive. We are curious by nature, and it is a trait that makes us human.

Curiosity drives us to ask questions, seek answers, learn and grow. It takes courage to ask questions and admit when we don’t know something. At school, those who don’t ask “the right question” are often embarrassed by their peers. But being able to admit what you don’t know and desire to find out more is a critical life skill. Curiosity is a superpower if you allow it.

The best relationships are built based on curiosity and interest in everything around us.

We can continue to nurture this sense of curiosity as adults if we make an effort to do so. For many people, formal education ends after high school or college, but that doesn’t mean learning has to stop there.

2. Marveled

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” — Albert Einstein.

Einstein understood that one of the characteristics that humanize us is the ability to marvel at any experience. When we are children, we marvel at everything, but this quality diminishes as we grow older. By developing a sense of wonder, you can infuse your life with more creativity and meaning. The human being is not satisfied with mere existence. Still, he is constantly searching for experiences that help him transcend his life and allow him to glimpse something beyond what he has known.

This characteristic of the human being is evident from the beginning. The first human beings were simple farmers who made their living by cutting down trees and cultivating the land. However, when they realized that there was more to this world than their farm, they began to explore the world around them. They started to build ships to explore other parts of the world; they built temples and shrines to worship God. They even created a language to communicate with each other.

No matter how much we advance technologically or scientifically, we will never lose our capacity for wonder. We will always be amazed by new discoveries and technologies; We will always be fascinated by what is beyond our current knowledge, and we will always be intrigued by what is beyond our current understanding.

3. Empaths

Being human is an act of empathy. It is what makes us compassionate and supportive of other people.

Although some of us are more empathetic than others, it is essential to remember that we all can see things from another person’s perspective. By understanding how another person feels, we can connect with others on a deeper level.

At this time, our empathy is tested by the constant bombardment of information and biases. It takes a conscious effort to stay connected with our fellow human beings so that we don’t lose sight of what really matters in life: relationships with other people. When you empathize with someone, you create a connection with that person. Studies show that people with empathy can quickly become servant leaders because they have an excellent understanding of the experience of others on their team. On a personal level, empathy allows us to learn from the experiences of others and make better decisions for ourselves in the future.

4. Compassionate

I’ve always been interested in how and why we do the things we do, know what we know, and what makes us feel the way we think.

An idea that has often fascinated me is that one of the characteristics that most humanizes us is compassion. We not only have thoughts, feelings, intentions, and sensations, but we are also aware of those thoughts, feelings, intentions, and sensations in others.

At its core, compassion is about understanding others deeper and recognizing that we are all connected. Compassion also implies an action or a desire to improve another person’s situation or life.

This humanizing trait is one of the most attractive characteristics we possess as people. We should celebrate it and focus more on how it can help us lead better lives and create a better world for future generations.

5. Simple

Simplicity is something that can be difficult to achieve in the business world. There are so many moving parts and variables that it can be challenging to focus on the core problems and find simple solutions.

Things get complicated because we often try to do too many things simultaneously. “We’re going to build this app, sell it to these customers, hire more people, get more funding, and have 100 tribes with 10 Agile Coaches…”

Simplicity makes us human.

We are so complex as a species that we can find ways to complicate even the simplest things. It’s a bit ironic that simplicity is what makes us human.

Simplicity is not effortless. But the best things in life are often not.

6. Imaginative

For centuries, philosophers have argued that the ability to imagine constitutes our essential humanity. From Aristotle to Freud, imagination has been considered a crucial part of our identity. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus even argued that it is an evolutionary necessity: Without vision, we have no motivation to improve ourselves or our lives.

This is just one of the ideas about imagination explored in How the Imagination Works by Lawrence Shapiro, professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Shapiro acknowledges that the idea that “imagination makes us human” may seem overly grandiose to some people. But she says she is backed by centuries of philosophical reflection and recent cognitive science research that suggests imagining is something only humans can do.

For example, monkeys can understand when humans are watching them and change their behavior accordingly. Still, they cannot understand what it would be like to be that human.

From a philosophical point of view, imagination is a way of seeing things from another perspective, including that of other people. It also allows us to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

7. Questions

We are probably the only animals on the planet with the ability to ask questions. And if we think about it, it’s pretty strange. Why would a species evolve to be curious about things outside its immediate environment?

The answer could lie in our past. The ability to ask questions may have been a critical factor in our development as a species. Asking questions is basically a way of testing our assumptions against reality. And this ability to question what we thought we knew allowed us to grow beyond an instinctual being that lived off the land and into a world where we could control our own destiny (for better or worse).

Asking questions allows us to deepen our understanding of the world around us. Still, it also helps us make connections with others. Sharing stories is one of the most fundamental ways we bond as human beings, and curiosity encourages us to engage with others on deeper levels than small talk.

Let’s go back to our childhood.

This last weekend, I have remembered the things that make me happy and keep me alive, mainly those that have to do with these 7 characteristics that I share with you. It was a pleasure to see how everything came down to being and remaining human despite all the noise of social networks and their false appearances. This conversation with the Product Owner also reminded me why I write this blog, why I took up my hobby in photography, why I love music and accompanying people, teams, and organizations to continue being human, despite all the noise of their rhythms, aspirations, egos and career paths.