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Steamboat Magazine

What Does It Mean to Be Human?

05/03/2024 07:00AM ● By Debra S. Kalish, Program Committee Chair, Colorado Humanities Board of Directors

Steamboat Springs, CO - In the past couple years, we’ve heard a lot - and probably thought a lot - about AI. What separates humans from machines? Is it creativity? Culture? Compassion? Just what does it mean to be human?

As a human being, I do things that machines don’t do, at least not yet. I love talking with my book club about the lives of people in other times and other cultures. We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Cesar Chavez Day, Norwegian Independence Day, and Juneteenth. My brother and sister and I just sent our DNA to Ancestry to find out more about our distant ancestors. And I love telling my French grandchildren stories about growing up in the United States. 

Do you go to museums? Do you read to your children? Listen to podcasts? Have you gone to an event where historic figures like Rosa Parks, Rachel Carson or Edgar Allen Poe were portrayed? Do you enjoy listening to oral histories? These are often some of our favorite times, things that bring a sense of joy to our lives.

In each of these instances, there’s storytelling going on. Through these experiences, we learn more about our diverse heritage, traditions, culture, and history that help us better understand ourselves and each other, understand the human experience, and, fundamentally, what it is to be human. That is the very definition of the humanities.

Colorado Humanities is the organization that helps promote and elevate the humanities throughout the state with a mission to tell the many and varied stories of our Colorado residents. It is the state council associated with the National Endowment for the Humanities, which was formed by Congress back in 1965. NEH has councils in every state. Those councils, like Colorado Humanities, provide programs and support local humanities organizations in communities around the state.  

During COVID lockdown, Colorado Humanities supported museums, libraries, theaters and community radio stations across the state and enabled them to continue their work. Its current activities include programs designed to encourage parents and childcare providers to read to children, to celebrate Black History Month, to support local living history programs, to consider the changes in rural America, and to encourage community conversations about issues important to that community.

Over the course of the next few months, Colorado Humanities will be asking people around the state what it can do to promote the humanities in their communities. Are you interested in a Chautauqua program where performers appear as historic figures? Would you like to encourage moms and dads in your community to read to their little ones? Would a viewing of the beautifully photographed film, The Five States of Colorado, about the distinct regions within our state be something your community might like to watch and discuss together? Or are there concerns in your community that you would like to see addressed, but need a little help to bring people together? 

To learn more about Colorado Humanities, please visit our website:  To speak to a staff member about bringing the humanities to your community, write to: [email protected]. If you would like to complete a survey for yourself or for your organization, please click this link to begin.

And if you receive a survey directly from Colorado Humanities or are invited to a roundtable discussion to talk about the humanities in your community, please participate. We are listening.

Debra Kalish is a retired attorney living on Colorado’s beautiful Western Slope. She joined the Colorado Humanities Board of Directors in March 2020. Kalish has served on the board of a variety of nonprofits over the past 30 years.