By James Hilston
Originally published in the Post-Gazette
on April 13, 2007
Occasionally I see something that causes me to pause and reflect on what makes us human, on what makes us different from non-humans.
Take, for example, this gentleman I observed Downtown the other day. Let's call him Uri. Uri was walking, bipedally, with a woman friend through Gateway Center, a plaza that sits between some skyscrapers that fill part of Pittsburgh's skyline. The plaza comprises concrete walkways, some grassy spots, park benches and manicured bushes. Here people can smoke, take a stroll, smoke, eat their lunch, smoke, look at pigeons, smoke, etc.
Uri and his friend -- let's call her Mandy, after the Barry Manilow song -- were strolling, seemingly in no particular hurry to get anywhere, and having a conversation. I happened to glance at them as Uri separated from Mandy and walked into some waist-high bushes. Mandy paused at the edge of the bushes to wait for Uri, continuing their conversation.
There in the bushes, Uri proceeded to unzip his pants, using his uniquely human opposable thumb, and to subsequently urinate into the bushes in which he was standing. He continued to talk to Mandy, never breaking eye contact. She nodded and acknowledged what he was saying, looking right at him, the sound of whiz splashing into the bushes and on the ground at Uri's feet.
Note that I was being surreptitious in my observation of this, so as not to appear creepy. After all, relieving oneself of the pressure in one's bladder, no matter how publicly it is executed, is still a private affair.
As Uri finished his little public pee-fest, I again averted my eyes. I then passed by Uri and Mandy, taking one last cursory glance to see Uri zip up and reverse his way out of the bushes he had just marked as his own.
• • •
I know what you must be thinking. Why am I bothering to describe something so mundane? I mean, surely I could have chosen something far more significant and noteworthy to write about.
But think about it. Ponder the wonder of what I've just described. There is so much to observe about this otherwise incidental event that separates human from animal and demonstrates the sublime beauty of what it means to be a homo sapien.
For instance, Uri could have just started to wet himself while walking, soaking his pants. But he didn't. He had the sensibility and foresight to know that urine-soaked pants become all gross and smelly as the day progresses, and that he likely would offend the olfactory faculties of those around him. Rather, he went to the trouble of unzipping his pants and urinating in a manner that mitigated the possibility of grossness and smelliness.
Think for a second: Do animals take such care to avoid the smell of urine on themselves? Certainly not. Most of them seem rather to like it!
Furthermore, consider that Uri went out of his way to find a place to void his bladder that was out of the way of pedestrian traffic, obviously concerned that others would not have to trod through his steaming puddle of pee. Ask yourself: Do animals concern themselves with such details? Surely they do not. In fact, most of them seem to go out of their way to step in each other's urine!
Note also that Uri obviously had to plan his actions while not missing a beat in his conversation with Mandy. That takes some serious multi-tasking skills. Consider for a moment: Have you ever seen an animal continue a conversation while simultaneously scoping out possible targets for urination, let alone conversing while fully engaged in the act? Of course, the answer is no. Animals, what with their tiny unevolved craniums, are not capable of such high-level brain function.
• • •
Say what you will about the remarkable social intricacy of honeybee colonies; say what you will about the arcane complexity of group behavior among chimpanzees; say what you will about the mysteriously sophisticated level of communication among dolphins. They all still pee everywhere and anywhere. Some of them even throw their poop, and without opposable thumbs.
Nothing in the animal realm comes even close to demonstrating the level of refinement we see so plainly in the societal sensibilities of human beings. And that is why we humans set the bar as the quintessential examples of savoir faire in civilized society.
We don't set the bar very high, but we hardly ever throw our poop.
The original story can be read here: http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2007/04/13/Saturday-Diary-Living-large-on-top-of-the-food-chain/stories/200704130276#ixzz350sJOh00