Humans are animals, but animals are not human. So what makes us different? There are obvious zoological differences such as walking on two legs, the often celebrated opposable thumb and the size and nature of our brain. But there are zoological differences among all animals. Those aspects mostly indicate how we function within our environment. We start seeing more drastic differences in our level of consciousness and awareness of self. In this regard we can see how we fit into our environment and we have the ability to alter that environment. It allows us to dream of change and to turn those dreams into realities. In this manner we start to diverge from animals. I think however those differences are largely a function of brainpower and not the most significant differences.
The real differences come with our ability to empathize with others, to understand their pain, their joy and how we affect them. It is this part of us that understands “right from wrong” and can evaluate ourselves against the relationship of right and wrong. Our conscience is what we use to evaluate our actions, and we know this to be an ever evolving process. Animals demonstrate varying levels of affection. Largely, this affection is focused on survival of the species. Whether it is the herd mentality of buffalo putting the weakest of them in the center of the herd when under attack or a dog wanting to please its human master or the pack’s alpha dog it centers toward the continuation of the species.
Certainly this is not to degrade the affection of a beloved pet and they deserve the love we give them. However, it is only humans that can take love to a deeper and selfless level. It is our love through which we have the ability, and more importantly, the desire to help the weakest among us. Nature can seemingly be cruel to the weak and it is through our conscience and loving empathy that we recognize the weak and try to alter their or our environment simply to give them comfort. When I talk of the weak, please know I do not refer to a class of people but rather each and every one of us; for there are times in our life that we all need the help of others. So where does this love, this conscience, this empathy come from? Thus far I don’t think science has found a concrete origin biologically.
In pretty much every religion the source is from something outside us, from something bigger than us. For us we call it the soul and it is imprinted with the image of God who IS love beyond definition. Through our faith we see that God gives us our soul, and moreover He gives us instructions on how to use it. Through the Commandments, His Word, and the Living Word who is Christ we are given the capacity to Love, the ability to change other’s lives and are given guidance on how to be truly happy. Take heed though, not only is it a blessing but it brings with it great responsibility. Knowing how to help others we conversely know how to hurt others and since we have empathy we can do so with conscious knowledge of the outcome. Hence, sin. Let us be careful not to marginalize, nor oppress, nor ignore those who need us most for it is in doing so that we turn away from what we were put here for, to love one another.
Brother Knights, this is what our organization was founded on and what we are here for. We are a service organization and when we each participate in that service we act as a living example of what makes us unique among God’s creatures. We as Knights, and simply as humans for that matter, are called to be open and ready to live in service when the chance arises. It is the fulfillment of our unique place in this world.
Pat Rosmarin, Lecturer