“Guess my favorite animal.”
I’m with a former student, Julia. We are in Baltimore, about to walk into YES, the Youth Empowered Society, a drop-in center for homeless youth that offers services and supports.
Julia has spent the last several moments of our journey talking about the profundity of elephants, her favorite animal. Their wisdom. Care. Matriarchal lineage. Cosmic connection. Julia is clearly inspired by this, her totem animal.
So I ask her to guess mine. She guesses right.
“You don’t have a favorite animal.”
Weird, right? Everyone has a favorite animal.
I have other favorites.
A favorite smell, a favorite song, a favorite city.
But no favorite animal…at least, until roughly a year later.
You see, I was looking in the wrong place. I was looking “out there” in the wilds of the world for my favorite. I needed to look “in here.”
It’s you. You reading this. You are my favorite animal.
Whether you’re being adorable or ornery. You remain, always, my favorite.
As I began to share this affinity with others, I got the gamut of responses. Julia’s was quick and enthusiastic.
“Of course!” She exclaimed with a laugh and a hug.
For others…confusion. Disdain.
“Humans are definitely NOT my favorite animal,” one of my close friends said with a shake of her head.
My children, too, were at first puzzled.
“We’re not animals.”
And there it is. Homo sapien exceptionalism.
Such an innate belief in our difference and distance from the rest of our planet that we can at once propel ourselves to amazing heights, defying gravity as we stretch towards the moon and beyond, and, at the same time, we can declare ourselves lords and masters of all we survey, subjugating it to our whims and desires.
Subjugating each other.
What makes a human? What perfects and perverts our purpose? My declaration of love for humanity is inextricably tangled up in these questions.
To love humanity we must face humanity in all its transcendence and tribulation. We must face refugee crises where humans flee the cruelty and violence of their former neighbors. We must face poverty that enslaves humans to labor in fields of oppression as they harvest higher class hungers. And simultaneously we must embrace the invention and ingenuity without borders that cures polio, creates prosthetics, composes symphonies, and climbs to mountaintops.
This is the human paradox; that both unfathomable creation and unimaginable destruction reside side by side within each of us.
Those of us who fancy ourselves humanitarians and philanthops, we must face this truth in our brothers and sisters. We must face it in ourselves.
I am honored to enter into this writing space dedicated to the human experience. My personal calling and vocation, education, is a remarkable space to nourish, heal, and propel humanity forward. I look forward to asking how we can make all our spaces and professions more humane, more capable of bringing forth the best of humanity. The best in ourselves.
You’re my favorite.
This is my declaration of Human Love.
Barbara Ellard Dziedzic manages a youth work force development program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, building partnerships between the private sector and the public good. She is trained in dialogue development, restorative practice, and cultural proficiency. Previously she worked as a classroom teacher for over a decade as she developed and implemented a Community Development and Global Citizenship Signature Program. Originally from Missouri, she received her BA from Carleton College in Minnesota in 2002, moved to the East Coast to volunteer at an AIDS hospice with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and began her teaching career in Baltimore City in 2003. As part of her graduate work in International Peace and Conflict Resolution at American University, in the summer of 2009 she worked as an Advocacy Project Peace Fellow in Nairobi, Kenya. In her work, she taught youth how to document their efforts for social change through photography, video, radio, and blogging. Barbara lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband, Zachary, and their twin children, Ivy and Kipling. As a family they enjoy all manner of outdoor antics including backpacking, snowshoeing, and canoeing.