Robert Hsu | Why it's the 99.9%, not the 99%
The Casual Observer | As humans, we're much more similar than we might think
February 7, 2012, 11:45 pm · Updated February 10, 2012, 12:05 am·
The Casual Observer
Humans come in different shapes, sizes and colors, but any given two share 99.9% of their DNA. Somehow, we still tend to see ourselves as separate living entities from other people.
There were times during New Student Orientation and the first few weeks of classes this year during which I felt lost and shared nothing with anyone — not even my DNA.
I remember feeling nervous whenever I asked my professor a question after class, since I was fixated on all the accomplishments tied to his name. In my mind, he was better than me — a superhuman.
I remember walking past security guards, gardeners and the cleaning staff in the Quad every morning, wanting to say something besides an impersonal and clichéd, “Hi, how are you?” but not knowing what else to say.
I remember seeing the same person sit alone every day at 1920 Commons during NSO. Even though I sensed her loneliness, I did nothing.
However, with each day at Penn, I have grown to learn that we are all human made up of skin, flesh and bones. At the most fundamental level, we also share the same feelings — the tingle in our stomachs we get before a big midterm, the giddiness we feel when we see someone we like and the sinking feeling in our hearts when our day turns sour.
“[A]ll humans have the same basic desires: to feel loved and accepted, to feel worthy and appreciated and to ultimately make others happy,” my Biology professor Karen Hogan wrote in an email. “It has always been interesting to me that often we feel that we are alone in these desires, yet I believe they are fundamental to the human experience. I believe that these common desires far outweigh the views that divide us.”
Sam Kallman, a College and Wharton freshman, added “global studies have shown that people universally recognize emotions the same [way]. People in the developed world identify the facial expressions of happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, etc. identically to people in the rain forests of Borneo. No matter where you go, a smile signifies happiness.”
So why do we frequently underestimate our ability to deal with other people on a daily basis? Whether he or she is a classmate who has been grouchy lately or a professor who seems unwilling to understand extenuating circumstances, we see ourselves as incapable of affecting them.
We convince ourselves that we are different from the people we interact with every day, causing us to become fearful and cautious in our actions. But our status as humans automatically gives us the hidden ability to understand another’s feelings and adjust our behavior accordingly.
I realize now that beneath my professor’s intimidating outer shell was a skeleton, like mine, that carried him down Locust Walk every day to class, a heart like mine that kept us going into the early hours of the morning and a brain like mine longing for knowledge.
Beneath that lonely girl’s somber outer layer was a pair of eyes searching for company, a heart longing for friendship and a brain thinking about how to befriend someone.
Beneath the Quad security guard’s tired exterior was a set of legs longing for rest, a heart wanting respect and acknowledgment from others and a brain wondering when a break from work could be taken.
Since I have taken to heart the idea that humans are ultimately the same — even though our surfaces can create a guise —I have taken risks and reached out to people in ways that I never did.
Last month, as I walked past a security line at the Detroit airport on my way to print out my boarding pass to Philadelphia, I spotted a woman standing in line, crying. My first instinct was to keep walking, because she was a random stranger. But then, I realized that she was another human in search of someone to comfort her — so I did.
I gave her a hug and she told me that her husband was leaving for Afghanistan. Aside from feeling sad, I didn’t think I had learned much from the encounter, or that we had anything in common — until I realized that I too, was being separated from my family for several months.
Robert Hsu, is a College and Wharton freshman from Novi, Mich. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Casual Observer appears every other Wednesday.