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The 10 Universal Human Traits

We're overlooking what we have in common and unites us as human beings.

We’re living in an overly and overtly divisive age. Various groups of people in this country and around the world are deservedly claiming their own cultural turf in the noble pursuit of inclusion. I myself have dedicated my professional life to making Big Business more “age-friendly” toward Baby Boomers in the larger effort to change our (negative) narrative of aging.

While recognizing our diversity and celebrating our differences is happily going a long way towards making us a more equal society, we are in the process of tending to overlook the things that we have in common and unite us as human beings.

To be clear, the desire to carve out our identity in our increasingly splintered, Balkanized world can be understood and appreciated. Defining ourselves is one of our primary goals in life; after all, a means of addressing the ultimate existential question: “Who am I?”


There’s a flip side to these steps toward self-awareness and positive social change, however. As we establish our individual and group identities, we’re too often labeling those who are different from us in some way as the “other.” More than ever before in history, perhaps, we’re focusing on an individual’s race, gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, religion, political affiliation, and a myriad of other variables to define a person. I saw a bumper sticker on a car the other day that simply read, “Vegetarian.”

Otherness is everywhere these days, much of it grounded in artificially constructed social divisions that are better left to actuarial tables. In addition to all the demographic slicing and dicing, psychological profiling is an often-used device to determine what kind of personality you have (and, more importantly, what kind you don’t). I’m an INTJ, one might proudly declare after taking the Myers Briggs test, distinguishing myself from all those ESFPs.

Such bucket sorting is not just silly but unhealthy and destructive. We’re all humans and, despite what MSNBC and Fox News might say, have much in common on a fundamental level. In fact, we all share the same basic DNA, making us genetic cousins of varying degrees. Americans seem especially split on many levels, something not consistent with our democratic ideals. In our quest to fulfill our motto of e pluribus unum—out of many, one—I’m concerned we’re prioritizing the pluribus over the unum.

Traits we share as a species

To that point, I propose that there are 10 universal human traits that we share as a species. Concentrating on these instead of our alleged differences is a much more useful way to have, as Garrison Keillor used to say in his radio ad for Powdermilk Biscuits, “the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.”

These traits are, in no particular order:

  1. Belonging. We’re all social beings, meaning we rely on meaningful relationships with others.
  2. Community. Likewise, we have a longing to be part of something bigger than our individual selves.
  3. Creativity. All humans share the drive to use their imaginations to make something that previously didn’t exist.
  4. Curiosity. We are inquisitive organisms, part survival device and part neurological mechanism to want to figure out what makes things tick.
  5. Family. The desire for kinship, biologically based or otherwise, is hard-wired into our genetic makeup.
  6. Love. Our strongest and chemically induced emotion is nature’s trick for us to perpetuate the species.
  7. Memory. Our brains are receptacles of the past, a means of passing on our life stories to the next generation for continuity.
  8. Purpose. Each of us is here for a reason, and our mission is to find out what that is and then do it as best we can.
  9. Storytelling. Chronicling and documenting some aspect of the human condition in some way to someone else is our primary form of communication.
  10. Voice. All of us have the need to express ourselves in a unique way to tell the rest of the world who we are.

These 10 universal traits transcend all the superficial differences we spend way too much time thinking and talking about. Let’s use them as ways to bring us closer together, even as we acknowledge and respect our wonderful diversity.

More from Lawrence R. Samuel Ph.D.
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