Are today’s humans morally superior to animals? Probably not. We habitually slaughter each other in battles over resources and cultural differences, or sometimes just for sport. Every year in the United States, about 15,000 people are murdered and 6 million children are abused. One in every five women report being victims of sexual assault. Psychological abuse goes untallied each day as people are taunted for being gay, ethnic, religious or non-religious, short, tall, skinny or fat. Cruel words perpetuate suicides, as with the 12-year-old girl who hanged herself in New York after being cyberbullied, yet ruthless mocking runs rampant on the Internet as much as the nightly news.

But the difference between us and other species is that we can improve (or destroy) ourselves faster. We are more advanced technologically, have more effective social skills and are better at adapting our environment to suit our wants. Perhaps other creatures might catch up eventually, but we are here now. And those gifts bring with them an unprecedented ability: we can create our own destiny. We can take the reigns of our own evolution to become what we want to be.

It’s easy to look at the world as it is, as the only way we’ll ever see it in our human lives, and think of this point as the only point that matters; the pinnacle of what has come before. It’s easy to see humans at the “top” of life when in fact we have only begun our ascent. We are not as admirable as we tend to think we are, and that’s OK—denial is a very human trait. But we can be great, if only we are willing. We can grow by leaps and bounds in our own time, and we can make the humans of the future great as well. But to become forces of good instead of evil, we must first admit who we are as animals, and explore our place among the living creatures with whom our destiny is intertwined.  And then we must pour our energy into creating a just, benevolent society and not one run by greed and fear.