“There is some kind of a sweet innocence in being human- in not having to be just happy or just sad- in the nature of being able to be both broken and whole, at the same time.“
-C. JoyBell C.
To strive to be better means to accept that one is, firstly, not at one’s prime. Not only would one have to accept such a thing, but one would have had to be honest with oneself and, secondly, accept that there is room for improvement. To be honest, is to accept growth. Honesty lends itself to a process of reflection, which in turn unravels the very things that have kept us from being better. We, as a human species, are imperfect. We struggle with emotions, consciousness, morality, religion, and politics, all of which endure the struggle between bipartite and multiplicity. In turn, the process of honesty, reflection, and development merely makes us perfectly imperfect. Without the struggles of everyday life within ourselves as well as the conflicts we face externally, we’d live a rather utopian life. We strive to be better not to bear fruit to a utopia but rather to live in harmony with the imperfections of ourselves.
Being better is not a state, it is a constant form of transformation. Being better is a process, a process of awareness, acceptance, reflection, empathy, and congruence.
Awareness is asking, “What exactly is it that one is noticing of oneself?”. Here, honesty plays a crucial role, for one cannot be aware of things one chooses to ignore. This portion of the process may also be supplemented by talking to those around you and listening closely to their opinion for they may notice things that you as an individual may not have been cognizant of.
The second stage is acceptance of the things one has become aware of. This helps to solidify and legitimize one’s own understanding of self-awareness, something that sets the foundation for the rest of the process. Such acceptance may come in self-validation, self-affirmation, or, for those who are more analytical in their thinking, empirical deduction. Such deduction can best be obtained through the opinions of others. We often think we act differently with many people, but there are certain fundamental characteristics and behaviors that will be shown to one of oneself once there is communication in a healthy manner between one and those one deems credible judgers of their behaviors and listens with the intent to learn rather than defend, withdraw or critique.
Reflection. After one has become aware of the areas that need bettering, and has accepted that awareness, reflection comes next and it is often the hardest part. Here, honesty yet again comes into being but in a different way. Reflection is a two-step process. In the stage of awareness, one is honest with the intent to learn. In the stage of reflection, first, one is honest with the intent to change. Second, one carries out the change in action and, internally, often leading to what may feel like a complete upending of subconscious thought-processes. We see the hardest times here. This process is internal and often demanding. But alas, one started from a place of awareness, then moved to a place of acceptance and one is now, upon reflection, entering new lands, breathing new air, and experiencing the world around differently. Reflection is the change of subconscious behaviors that one may not have been privy to; subconscious in their manner of hiding and dodging from our everyday levels of awareness of our conscious, active thinking.
The fourth stage is empathy. Empathy, as we understand it, is normally done unto others but we too can do it unto ourselves. Empathizing with ourselves is crucial in alleviating guilt or shame tied to the position that one is striving to be better from. This may take the shape of reaffirming one’s emotions, emphasizing the human condition of struggle, and making clear your importance to yourself and those around you. By working on the empathy muscle on oneself, one may progress in a substantive, forgiving, understanding, and loving manner that makes sure to heal, over time, any wounds that may be left from this process of bettering oneself. Indeed, the process is hard, confrontational, and at times even destructive. But working empathy into one’s daily thought process when dealing not just with others but with oneself can yield to a lighter tread onto the next and final step of the process.
Congruence is bliss. One will find that during the prior stage of empathy, giving love to oneself brings copious amounts of instances of momentary internal mixtures of love and peace, a sense of oneness that sweeps you. Congruence is looking back at how all of those moments of self-empathy, after doing the hard work that reflection entails, and how it all has given way to a better human that is you.
And no matter where you are in this process of bettering yourself, or maybe you feel as though you have not started, you are you as you are now, in this one, present and lasting moment.
You. A work of art whose canvas continues to find color and spaces to fill.
You. A star that burst after trillions of years of existing and became a radiating and magnanimous nebula cloud.
You. The silence of a morning river after nightly, turbulent rains, the fog rises into the air alongside songs of waking birds.
Up until now, I have described the internal mechanisms of what all the phrase “better humans” entails. However, we do not grow up in isolation. So how do we express ourselves to one another in a manner that reflects this entire internal labyrinth of reflection and synthesis? I believe that, by employing five tenets of dialogue, communicating one’s inner progress towards realizing their fuller selves becomes both a means of connection, and for those that do it already, it becomes easier. The five tenets are Hope, Love, Humility, Trust, and Critical Thinking.
To embody a better human and a better self, one must have hope that such a human and such a self can be reached. Hope helps one visualize a different tomorrow. Hope brings forth, in the imagination and the heart, something other than what is an objective reality. Action then connects both the synthesized aspiration of being a better human and the human today. It is hope that drives the transformative journey of becoming a better human.
Love humanity and what it means to exist and be human. Being a human being is kind of hard. Moving through space and time with love makes existing and being human a little easier. Loving the life that we live out and construct for ourselves and others is to love our identity among the animal kingdom and place in nature. Loving humanity means accepting and embracing the complexity that is human existence. In the face of goodness, love in humanity prospers. In the face of wickedness, love in humanity turns into a strong desire to overcome to prosper once again.
You are you and are growing into yourself every passing day. You are existing and being human alongside everyone else. Some grow into themselves quickly; others, it takes time. Regardless of time, there is no measurement of what constitutes the best human being. You are no better at being human than any other person. As this text has addressed, one can most certainly better oneself. But you better yourself in comparison to who you are currently, not in comparison to anyone else. To think you are the best is to feed the Ego and be prideful. All at the same, to tell yourself the complete opposite and hate yourself for not growing into yourself the same way others are, or at the same time others are, is to mold yourself merely as an observer, as a judger of yourself rather than perceive yourself as an actor, as one who can act upon their concrete reality in order to change the present conditions. To be neither prideful nor self-deprecating is to be humble. It is through humility that one understands oneself as being in command of one’s being and one understands, and accepts, the intricacies of humanity and change.
Trust the process of change and trust in humanity itself. The process of becoming a better human being and the process of growing into oneself is not easy to undergo. But trusting in the sensitivity and malleability of the process will aid in making the journey much richer than imagined. To trust humanity is to trust the process of change, for humanity and humans are ever-changing creatures. The pulls and pushes of the tides of life may be unpredictable but it is in the very aspect of this unpredictable nature that one can have faith in. In other words, trust that the unpredictable will remain unpredictable; it then becomes predictable. Such realization only comes with trust in oneself and the most human thing of all: change.
Hold yourself to critiques, not just from yourself but also from other people. Critical thinking is part of our human cognition and it is a characteristic that makes us different from every other species. To think critically is to exercise all the muscles previously mentioned. With critical thinking, we connect the love and hope we have, the humility we practice, and the trust we embody to deconstruct our current understanding of the human we are, to then make ourselves anew. It is through critical thought that we put into question the current state of our being and lives, in order to become better.
Before one can be better, one must understand how one is now, at the moment. The transformation between ‘who one is’ to ‘who one wishes to be’ is made up of awareness, acceptance, reflection, empathy, and congruence. Upon communicating with other people who are in constant change as you are, we reach a deep understanding of our humanity. Employing the tenets of hope, love, humility, trust, and critical thinking in our dialogue will foster connection throughout all of our ever-changing souls.
Benjamin "Victor" Pulgar-Guzman has a B.A. in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations. His main area of study concerns the history of international relations and global economics, Marxian and Anarchist political theory, feminist, queer, and race theory and is an avid reader on philosophy and history of religions. Victor is also a producer, singer-songwriter, poet, and writer.