Persons, places and things: To be fully human

By Barb Arland-Fye

What makes a person fully human? If an individual can’t distinguish right from wrong does that make him or her less than fully human?

These questions surfaced during Moral Theology class last weekend. I’m a student along with deacon candidates, their spouses and other individuals in the Master of Pastoral Theology program sponsored by the Davenport Diocese and St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

We posed many questions in Father Bud Grant’s class — dealing with conscience, virtues and environmental ethics for example — and yet the “fully human” question during a discussion about natural law lingered in my mind as I drove home after class ended Sunday.

Another set of questions awaited my attention at home. Our family’s school district had sent a letter asking my older son Colin (who no longer lives at home) to complete a survey about how his high school education prepared him for life as an adult. I’ve thought about having my almost-25-year-old son answer the questions, but wonder, “What’s the point?” The survey asks about GPAs and post-graduate study and how well prepared Colin felt after completing a variety of classes.


He received an excellent education in our school district, but it couldn’t possibly prepare this young autistic adult for life without school. He’d been in school since age 3 and when he graduated 15 years later (plus one extra year for school-to-work transition) he lost his moorings and sense of purpose.

While he can engage in wonderful conversations, reads well, studies politics and road maps and has a photographic memory, he doesn’t like to wear shirts with ties – even if that’s part of the work uniform – and he might walk away from his duties unless someone reminds him to stay on task.

His naiveté leaves him vulnerable toward less scrupulous individuals who would take advantage of him. If Colin were to go to a fast-food restaurant, order a $6 meal and give the cashier $20, he wouldn’t question the cashier for not giving back the money owed him.

He trusts everybody to be honest with him and to treat him with dignity. Why wouldn’t he? For him, reading body language is akin to a person who is colorblind being able to distinguish red from green.

Colin knows right from wrong, but if he’s in a stressful situation, he’s likely to do anything to alleviate his anxiety. If he can’t always reason, does that mean God hasn’t infused him with grace, inscribed the natural law in his very being?

In moral theology class we pondered this question concerning natural law: What is the best flowering of your humanity?

Let’s see: My son exudes warmth, love, thoughtfulness and an appreciation for just about everything he receives. He plays no favorites and his love is unconditional.

Recently, the media’s attention has been drawn to a story about Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping making a visit to Muscatine, a community he visited 27 years ago and never forgot the hospitality he received there. In answer to the question, “Why Muscatine?” the city’s newspaper quoted Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s communications director: “Treat everybody with dignity and respect … You never know where they will go someday.”

The communications director has it half-right. We ought to treat everybody with dignity and respect regardless of who they are or where they will go someday.

Colin may never earn a college degree or hold a prestigious job, but as a human being he’s flowering with the best of them.

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