A Day of Definition

It began on the streets of Portland, Oregon. My goal was to approach random strangers and ask the question: “What does humanity mean to you?” The rules were simple: humanity had to be defined in one to three sentences–the size of a photo essay caption. Equipped with my camera, 3-by-5 notecards, and a favorite pink pen, I approached stranger after stranger. Rejection lasted an hour. I lowered my hand-knitted beanie hat.

Driving home, I asked myself, “Where do people slow down in the Pacific Northwest? Where do people have time to define humanity?” Next, I turned to the Columbia River Gorge–Multnomah Falls.

Nature agreed with humanity and soon enough, I had pink scribble definitions filling my tiny notebook. Happy photos were taken. And people pondered on what it means to be human.

Humanity is:

“The ability to connect with beauty around us, and in us, in a meaningful way.” – Jennifer (California) and Jeremy (Oregon)


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“A collection of unique individuals, pursuing common happiness and meaning.” – Jessica (Oregon) and Kelsey (Nevada)


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“It is meant to draw us near, not further apart; it’s in our differences that we grow and learn.” – Bethany (Michigan) and Mitch (Colorado)

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“Finding the courage to march on through the chaos of life.” – Caleb and Mike, California


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“Being able to enjoy this creation given to us—Mother Earth.” – Sulay and Douglas, Oregon


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“Making the most of the life you have been given, and giving of yourself to others in service.” – Peri and Duncan, Oregon


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(Right after Don asked Cathy to marry him) “Full of second chances. We feel very blessed to have found each other.” – Don and Cathy, Oregon


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“Living in the present—up to our greatest potential—with the restrictions that are presented in everyday life.” – Ray and Samantha, California


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“Love and compassion for any living creature.” – Alisia, Oregon  


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“Humanity is progress.” – Brian and Rachel, Washington


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“Loving your surroundings—taking care of it and appreciating the beauty around us.” – Julian, Washington


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“Being human is overcoming our flaws in the pursuit of a greater purpose.” – Maddy and Haley, British Columbia

I think so, too.


Ingrid McQuivey is a freelance writer and cultural photographer who is based in the Pacific Northwest. She is passionate about travel, connecting with new people, hiking the Pacific Northwest, and culture. You can connect with her here and see more of her work here