Putting the Humane in Humanity

By Jason Menard

Is the idea of being nice to each other out of date? Does the Golden Rule, which permeates any number of religions and societal structures, no longer apply to the modern world?

Kenneth Hemmerick, a Montreal-based, interdisciplinary fine artist has created an on-line course entitled, A Guide to Humane Awareness. It’s intended to be a tool to be used to reflect upon our own behaviour and attitudes, and to make us more aware of actively pursuing a humane way of living.

Yet, when I floated this concept around, reactions were decidedly mixed. While most thought it was a good concept, they felt that it wouldn’t resonate with the masses. There were a lot of “Yes, but…” and “Well, we know a lot of this, but on a day-to-day basis…” The most astute observation came from one person who said that those who are already good-natured and want to better themselves will be the ones who log on, but those who really need a course like this won’t look twice at it.

Essentially, what Mr. Hemmerick is trying to promote is a world where people consider the ramifications of their actions and the impact they may have on the world around them. But instead of lauding his efforts, many choose to look upon this innocent concept, shake our head sagely, and mutter something to the effect of, “but in the real world…”

But why does the real world have to be one where cynicism reigns supreme? Really, we all pay lip service to being nice to one another and making the world a better place, but when push comes to shove, we choose to isolate ourselves from the world around us and protect our own interests. We call it looking out for Number One, which is appropriate because we’ve elevated the satisfaction of our individuality over the needs of the community around us.

And I’m no different than many of you. I strain my life experience through a filter of cynicism, looking at the world through a jaundiced eye, preferring to find ulterior motives for random acts of kindness instead of appreciating them for what they are. How many of us, when hearing about someone making a large donation to charity think, “Oh, it’s just a PR stunt?” We attribute the motive behind displays of generosity to goodwill-generating, self-promotion in the hopes of receiving a return on that investment.

In fact, we’ve commercialized kindness to such an extent that we’ve created mantras promoting the concept. We’ve turned Karma into a commodity. It’s great to do a good deed as long it’s returned – with interest. The idea of doing a good deed just for the sake of itself is outdated.

So why has this happened? Is the pace of life increasing so quickly that we hold on for dear life to those things with which we’re comfortable, instead of just enjoying the ride and the experiences along the way? Do we, as a people, just not have the level of compassion required to make our “Do unto others…” Golden Rule Utopia a reality?

There’s something to be said for the fact that this world we live on is overwhelming. Technology has made the far reaches of the world closer than ever before. Our intellectual revolution has brought us instant access to the world around us. And with that comes a daily deluge of tragedy, loss, and sorrow. With every natural disaster, with every report from a war-torn country, with every plague, virus, or outbreak our reservoir of compassion is drained a little more, until finally we decide to turn off the spigot.

But when that compassion stops flowing, does our humanity dry up as well?

The idea of compassion seems so foreign to our dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest view of the world. Many would say that one can’t exist in the presence of the other. And, if that’s the case, then it becomes our choice as to what kind of world we want to live in – and what kind of world do we want to leave for our children?

I look on in wonderment at the innocence of my children. To them, the world is, inherently, a good place where people share, are nice to each other, and love one another – and this is because that’s all they’ve experienced. I smile looking at them, marvelling at their naiveté, and lamenting the fact that eventually they’ll have to see that the world is not all good.

But maybe we they don’t have to grow up knowing that. Maybe projects like Mr. Hemmerick’s can be a first step along the path to creating the world that we’ve always aspired to, but never attempted to realize.

It’s got to start somewhere. And perhaps the key to being a good human being is to start being a humane being.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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