We all have a story to tell.

And the beauty of a story told well is that it captivates, and it connects. It draws parallels to our similar experiences and allows us to see ourselves. It challenges us to see beyond our own lives and to hopefully engage in the shared humanity of others. It is the dynamic and creative potential of stories that make them so powerful.

I myself have been a lover of stories from a young age. My mother started taking me to libraries before I could even read, and there isn’t a library in the world that can’t feel like a second home with the right book and a good chair. As an only child, books inspired my active imagination, and often gave me companionship as I was thrown into adventures, and journeys, and mysteries of bold and unique characters. As I got older, I traded in a lot of my fiction for poetry, autobiographies, and especially memoirs. I found that the real-life stories of people were often far greater than any fiction plot twist my favorite authors were often pursuing. And that greatness revolved around the connections I made with the life experiences of the person whose story I was engaging. Whether their choices served as a cautionary tale, or a passage through a traumatic experience, or even as a hopeful reminder of God’s work—these stories brought me in as a co-participant on their journey. And that partnership planted seeds of empathy, a desire to comfort and succour, and often a commitment to the process of moving them forward.

As of late, my attention has been cautiously tuned into not only the curated tales that my library card, or Audible subscription will allow, but also to all of the many stories that emerge each day related to the human experience. These may show up on a news feed, or my favorite social justice commentators social media site, and even through the writings of my most trusted theological guides. These stories are usually messy, heartbreaking, and at times gut wrenching. Stories that highlight the jarring disparity of a first world healthcare system during a global pandemic, or a family lamenting the loss of a loved one due to a hate crime, or even activists seeking accountability and justice for racial inequalities. A theme that emerges in all stories, but has critical importance in stories where suffering, trauma, and loss occur, is the need to acknowledge the humanity of the people in the stories. A humanity that is often discarded during these unfortunate occurrences, and even after when the stories surrounding an event begin to emerge.

As Christians our interaction with stories from the Bible are often associated with the parables of Christ that span the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We encounter people with physical infirmities like the woman with the issue of blood; and spiritual maladies like the healing of the demoniac in the synagogue; and even distress and injustice like the man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who was stripped, beaten, and left for dead by robbers. And while these parables speak to the ministry of Christ, they also serve as example after example of the Great Commandment which implores us to love our neighbors as ourselves. This universal decree is one that came to life with each story, because it centered on the humanity of each need. And it can be argued that the collective sharing in suffering, grief, and unimaginable events are often the things that bind us deeply as humans, because it’s something that we all go through at some point.

To see someone’s humanity is to put value on the entire existence of that individual’s experience.

And while I think there is much that can be said about the importance of helping people in their time of need, I think one element that is often overlooked in Christ’s words to love our neighbors, is how necessary it is to simply afford them the same humanity that we afford ourselves. This may mean that we see their choices and give them the benefit of the doubt, because they too could be having the same bad day that we had last week. Or to choose grace when we see someone reaping the consequences of their unwise choices. Also, to not cast aspersions when we witness someone suffering, victimized, or traumatized by others. To see someone’s humanity is to put value on the entire existence of that individual’s experience.

Putting our perceptions of people aside on this road allows their humanity & experience to take precedence over our understanding of it.

A road to humanity then could mean a journey that we as individuals embark on to honor the experiences of others, and to consider the implications and outcomes of those experiences on the quality of life that people lead. Having an ear to hear and a heart to empathize opens each of us up to important truths about what is needed to meet people where they are. And putting our perceptions of people aside on this road allows their humanity and their experience to take precedence over our understanding of it. Most of us would be more gracious, loving, merciful, and kind to people if we held them to the same esteem as we hold ourselves and our loved ones. We would be less likely to turn a blind eye to the many ways that life is not valued in our modern times if we truly saw people as human, as valuable, and as worthy of the lives that God has given them.

Yes, we all have a story to tell. And that story begins and ends with our humanity.

Katherine Butler is a public health scientist who is committed to the intersection between faith and science. She holds a Bachelors of Science from Hampton University, a Masters of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Masters of Arts in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. As a lifelong learner, she finds motivation in the acknowledgment that her work is a participation in God’s redemptive work in the world.