Years ago, I remember my neighbor’s car caught on fire. His cries for help saved him. Other neighbors, including my father, frantically filled buckets with detergent to help kill the flames. This display of empathy, selflessness and worry, especially in our social climate, (often categorized as polarizing, divided, and apathetic), was particularly interesting to me.
According to the Oxford dictionary, “to humanize means to make something or someone more humane or civilized.” So what is the reason for this behavior? Why do we take the extra leap to humanize ourselves? Contrary to what one may think, it’s an intricate part of our social standing as humans. And unlike the previous generations, like Millennials, Gen X, and Baby boomers, Gen Z grew up with additional ways to communicate with one another: high technology and social media. However, no matter the era, interpersonal communication is essential for humans to survive on this planet and mutually co-exist.
For closer research, I conducted short interviews where I asked five people, “Why do humans try to humanize themselves?” These are their candid responses.
Aisha from Akure, Ondo State, told me, “I think we do that to gain more respect from people. Unfortunately, people sometimes take advantage of that.” Sometimes, people who smile and are jovial tend to get more disrespected than people who are always in a haughty or bad mood. People flow naturally to light-hearted people, and this means they might undergo more assault on their sensibilities, especially if they do not have firm boundaries. “I recently housed someone, which was supposed to be for a short while because I love my space. This minor act of kindness has turned sour. She disrespects my boundaries and messes up the house. I couldn’t say anything for a while because she’s family, but I have decided not to let this continue.”
Then I asked Ella, a writer based in Lagos. She said, “We [try to humanize ourselves] to look nicer, kinder, and more considerate. Or we feel it is the better thing to do until it’s not.” These attributes Ella mentioned are similar sentiments of most people. We could subconsciously do this to become more attractive, make friends, date, or just on a civil level.
“I once helped a classmate with their assignment, and I made a minor mistake with the measurement. This same person that begged me for help later turned vicious and rude. I was appalled, and I told them never to use that tone with me till we graduate and go our separate ways.”
Ella mentioned John Hoyt in our conversation, an American actor featured in movies like The Lawless, Spartacus, and Cleopatra, who once said, “Humaneness is, I believe, a reverence and respect for all life. It is not, finally, survival that we seek, but a quality of life that gives meaning and purpose to our existence. Yet not for our lives alone, but for the sake of all that lives.” According to this article, emotional intelligence can improve someone’s view of humanity, especially in a post-COVID world.
Bibi, a banker at Asaba, Delta, responded, “There’s nothing like reaching out to people. Other people see this and automatically assume you have good relationships with people. I want to be likable. Appearing calm is needed in my line of work. I deal with clients who are angry most of the time because they have some issues with their accounts. It has earned me respect amongst my colleagues because I rarely lose my cool. I’ll like to view it as a wall of protection; it prevents me from being intractable.”
I also spoke to Joy, a writer and researcher in Lagos, and she gave her answer over a cup of coffee. “I do this, so I look more approachable and empathetic. I like putting myself in people’s shoes, so I always want to look like someone you can walk up to in a place to ask for help.” She added that this has allowed her to make friends in the most unexpected places and really helped her foster her relationships with her family and friends. “I do not take this lightly. I have been in a bind before, and a stranger came through for me. I was soaked in the rain, cold, with no purse because I had left it at home. I walked up to this nice-looking lady, and she just had that aura about her. I asked her for some money for the bus. She gave me a little extra, plus her umbrella. I was so touched. And ever since, I have tried my best to look more friendly. Kindness goes round in circles.”
Tom, a health practitioner in London, said, “Generally, everyone loves to be loved. Even the evilest people amongst us. Someone said something to me some years back. ‘Deep down, no one wants to be evil.’ She went on to say how something as stupid as jealousy can make people evil. I am not sure if I completely agree with her, but you get my point. I know everyone wants to be loved, even those who pretend not to care. I think the current state of American culture is appalling. I grew up with family and family values, so the importance of community has always been clear to me. The overexertion of self-love is dangerous, and it doesn’t allow love to go round.”
After interviewing these individuals, my perspective became more nuanced. I saw another side of humanity — a better side. With this in mind, I have decided to be more conscious of the energy in society. You can never tell who might need help or a friend. If someone chooses me, I’ll know I’m doing something right.