Whenever I travel to major cities in America and abroad to speak, I try to visit the important historical and cultural sites and landmarks of the area. I do this because I have a passionate love for American and world history and culture. But I also do it because I never know if I’ll get the opportunity to return and I don’t want to miss out on remarkable experiences. Life is short.
Yet when I visit these major cities with their truly amazing sites and landmarks I notice that I have something in common with people who live in these places. When I visited Washington, DC, I encountered people who said they had lived in our nation’s capital their whole lives but had never gone to the National Mall to see the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument. When I visited New York City I had a similar experience. I encountered people who had lived there for many years and yet told me they had never visited the Statue of Liberty or Central Park. Lest you think it’s only true among Americans, I saw the same thing in England. Longtime Londoners told me they had never visited Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace, though they had driven by these extraordinary sites frequently over the years.
How do I explain this phenomenon? I think people have a natural tendency to take things that are common in our lives for granted. So when you grow up or live around these remarkable sites and landmarks, they’re familiar to you even if you never visited them. You presume they will always be there and you can always visit later. People tend to take what appear to be common things for granted.
The Most Common Thing
I propose that the most remarkable thing in our lives is also the most common: our humanity. We’ve lived our entire lives as members of the human species and therefore know nothing else, so nothing is more common to us. Yet, is it possible that we take being human for granted as we do other common things? I think we do.
As uniquely conscious beings we think and reason and seek the truth in ways animals apparently can’t and, in my opinion, machines never will. We are also distinctive moral beings who recognize the good and can live ethical lives—again, unlike both the animal kingdom and the technological instruments and mechanical devices that surround us. We also appear to be different as a species in our human ability to recognize, appreciate, and enjoy beauty.
So the truly remarkable capacity to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty appears to be uniquely tied to our common experience of being human beings. But like the sites and landmarks mentioned earlier, it seems the wonder is sometimes worn down by the common. In this way, many of us seem to take being human for granted. Having lived life, it can become so common that we live as if the mystery and thrill of being human are gone. May we be reminded—at this time of year and always—that our common humanity is a reflection of God’s image that allows us to appreciate truth, goodness, and beauty.
When the uncommon becomes common we tend to take it for granted. And this seems to be true even of our lives as human beings who have the unique and wondrous capacity to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty.
Reflections: Your Turn
Can you relate to this reflection? If so, does it motivate you to make some changes?