The Human Condition, by Brent M. Jones


We have heard it said that a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. All we have is “right now” and it is our own life that seems to be the clearest. The thoughts I want to present here have to do with the real difference it can make to understand the lives of others, hopefully even a thousand others.

If we really want to expand our own experience by finding more about the human experience of others, then we will want to know about the characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of their lives: their struggles, conclusions, emotional responses, aspirations, and even their deaths.   

I have found the best pathway to be through the gatekeepers to the lives of others, also known as authors. Harold Bloom, a well-known professor of literature at Yale, has written many books about authors and so his author picks are interesting.

His book "Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human” says that Shakespeare's vocabulary of 22,000 words is so infinite that it proves he knew pretty much everything there is to know about humankind. That proves, according to Bloom,  that he “invented the human”.

In an interview published in 1995, Bloom reflected on the great authors of the Western world, stating: “We must read and study Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes and the Bible, at least the King James Bible.” He said of these authors that “they provide an intellectual, I dare say, a spiritual value which has nothing to do with organized religion or the history of institutional belief” They tell us things we couldn’t possibly know without them, they reform and make our minds stronger. They make us more vital."

Bloom found more about our humanness from the authors themselves rather than from the stories and writings.

Shakespeare’s quotes resonate with our lives today. I like these quotes among so many good ones.

There is nothing good or bad, only thinking makes it so. - Hamlet

Hell is empty and the devils are here. - William Shakespeare

Though this be madness yet there is method in it. - William Shakespeare

The meaning of life is much more than our own personal daily experiences and can include much from those other lives that we read about.  For example we learned things from Hyenseo Lee who told to us in her book, “The Girl with Seven Names, Escape from North Korea”, that I am glad I can have some awareness of without having to have had the personal experience myself. Much comes to us in the nonfiction accounts of other people.

Even fiction brings us insight into our humanness. The suspense and twisting plots of fiction writer Lee Child’s in his Jack Reacher series takes us places we would never go and into situation we would never find ourselves in. We find excitement, empathy and emotional experience in fiction. Literary critics often label a piece of writing as literature - and not pulp fiction - if it tries to describe the "human condition.

Poetry can challenge the status quo in our lives and by doing so improve the human condition of all people. An example of this is in the work of May Angelou who fought for equality and for humanity writing about the plights and triumphs of a marginalized people.

The real meaning of our lives is different for each of us. It is the sum of our own experiences.