What does it mean to be human?

In the rush of busy school life we don’t usually take the time to think about fundamental beliefs. But such beliefs are important because they determine so much of what we do, as teachers, parents, people. So the way you answer the question “What does it mean to be human?” is important.

Thrown Possibility

Thrown possibility is one way of seeing the human condition.

Possibility: because at birth we have the potential to be just about anything - we are full of possibilities.

Thrown: because there is much of us and our lives that we are thrown into - where we are born, whether we are female or male, what language we grow up learning, where we go to school, etc.

According to this view, we need to live good lives by fulfilling meaningful possibilities. This means:

  • Not closing possibilities that might lead us to being fulfilled, useful, happy human beings;
  • Re-opening possibilities that have been closed for us by circumstances;
  • Challenging the powerful who close off possibilities for us and others, and who try to convince us that this situation is “the way things are”.


This can form an important part of one’s spirituality. God calls us to embrace our wholeness; our response to God’s call is to seek to fulfill the potentialities we have been given. This is not just for us as individuals, but as members of society, we need to strive to ensure that all people are free to embrace their possibilities.

The serenity prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr comes to mind:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.


So what does this mean for us as teachers? 

  • We need to understand the “thrownness” of our students - who they are, where they come from, what limits have been placed on them;
  • We need to work as activists, inspiring our students to challenge the things that can be changed;
  • In class, we need to open possibilities through motivating learning and discovery, and building self-belief;
  • We need to ensure that we are not closing possibilities through passing negative judgements or through limiting education to the memorisation of content and the passing of tests.

In short, as teachers, we fulfil our potential by assisting our students to fulfil theirs. 

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