Expanding the Definition of Humanism – My Guest Post at Maria’s Blog
As social animals, we tend to align ourselves with people who are “like us”; We associate with those who share our outlook on life, with those with whom we are related, with those that we share ideas and thoughts, with those who inspire us, and with those from whom we can learn and grow. That is the key to our interpersonal relationships, a sense of familiarity with those around us. Some of us are fortunate enough that we can find this in our daily lives, while others have to search farther afield in clubs or social groups, and others again may find it difficult to find these people and may struggle to interact with people who see the world as they do. But one thing we all have in common is our humanity; We are all human, we are all born from a mother, we all have a father, we all live and breathe and die. It is undeniable that we all share this, even as varied and disparate as we may seem.
The like-minded people we seek to be with lend to us our identities, individually and collectively, and in the best of circumstances give us a sense of belonging, a sense of being part of a greater whole. In the worst of circumstances, this “collectiveness” gives rise to division from people who do not fit into our definition of identity, revealing itself in the form of sexism, racism, factionalism, tribalism, and nationalism. The disparaging of the “other”, the “xeno” in “xenophobe”, or the “outsider”, is used as a way for people to reinforce the “rightness” of their collective, or as a way to feel more secure within their group. When one can distinguish what separates them from others, and have a group of people who fit to their ideals, values and social aspirations, it is much easier to demonise the “other” as being against you.
However, the one thing that binds us, our humanity, should be the most compelling reason for unity that we have available to us. Without exception, all of humanity has, at its core, a group of physical and emotional needs that need to be met if we are to meet a minimum standard of well-being in our lives. To me, that is the definition of the “human” in “humanism”.
I can see how religious folk might see the idea of humanism as abhorrent, especially given the above definition; It could be (and often is) interpreted to place all importance on humans in an individualistic, nihilistic and narcissistic manner, forsaking the rights and happiness of others only seeking for hedonistic pleasures of the flesh. In the mind of some religious people, this narrow interpretation misses the point of what it means to be human, because in their minds without the existence or intervention of a higher power the only viable alternative is a life of debauchery and consumption at the expense of others. It misses the point because of the very binding nature of being human, namely our similarities as a species.
This is to say, that from an objective and (almost) universal standpoint, all of humanity experiences life in a similar fashion; Our physical needs (food, water, rest, sex) and our emotional wants (comfort, safety, happiness, love) are things that any human can talk about with a certain sense of knowledge. (Note: I say “almost” because there are certain cognitive and physical disorders which can effect the way a person interacts with or experiences the world around us. However these are so uncommon as to be negligible in this context, the exception rather than the rule.)
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