It’s an age old question with many answers: What separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom?
We have large, developed brains which not only give us consciousness, but self-consciousness. We have hair and skin, which give us some protection from the elements, and our upright stance allows us to not only walk, but run. Our opposable thumbs enable us to grip things in a way that many animals cannot, which also gives us the ability to create and use tools.
But these things alone don’t make us all that different from some of our mammalian counterparts. Apes have similarly large brains to ours. Although they obviously don’t have the same capacity for thought and action as we do, scientists have discovered that apes do have some form of emotion and self-consciousness that, if not fully relatable to humans, is at least close. Apes feel in similar ways to humans. They feel threatened, hungry, angry, satisfied, or any other number of physiological and emotional feelings.
Many primates and also a few of the lemur and loris species have opposable thumbs. So, while it is a special physical trait, it’s not exclusive to us. Apes are more agile than us, swinging through trees with the greatest of ease and balance. So the fact that we can run is not all that impressive either. Especially when considering other mammals, like the Cheetah, which can run at speeds of up to seventy-five miles per hour. Our running, however, does play a huge role in what makes us different.
What really separates us from other animals is our endurance. The human ability to endure is what has kept us around and kept us the dominant species on Earth (along with our advanced cerebral cortex). The fact that we can not only run, but run at great distances for great periods of time, is what has enabled our species to survive and thrive.
Today, running is not as essential to our survival, but there are still some people that use running as a necessary survival skill, like the San People of the Kalahari Desert. They are skilled at tracking and chasing their prey to the point of exhaustion. After a days long chase, the animal will simply collapse and die. No weapon or high-tech machinery is used to catch their food – just human endurance. In the Copper Canyon of Mexico, the Tarahumara people are renowned for their long-distance running of up to 100 miles at a time wearing almost nothing at all, including shoes. The Tarahumara have survived this way for almost 400 years.
In the animal kingdom, our ability to endure is what sets us apart. So keep running, keep hiking, keep surfing, skiing, or climbing. Keep doing what you do. Whatever it is, keep on enduring. After all, it’s only human.