How Can Humans Become More Humane?

Human history is filled with aggression, violence, betrayal, greed, and other negative acts. How can we become more humane?

While there are plenty of instances of people treating each other with grace and dignity, the opposite is alarmingly common. And all too often, the underlying cause is suspicion and mistrust of the other.

It is easy to understand bad behavior when life and death is on the line. If my family is going to starve, I might steal your food to feed them. That may not be right, but it makes sense.

However, what do we make of more abstract differences? Why do we attack or enslave someone else because their skin color is different from ours? Or they pray to a different god? Or they speak a different language?

There may be an evolutionary cause to our behavior. A person who mistrusted others in different tribal groups may have been more likely to survive into adulthood and have offspring. We may be hardwired that way.

Now however, that same behavior is counterproductive at best, and actively destructive at worst. We can see divisions growing between groups for the simplest of reasons. People are insulted and attacked online, which ruins the experience for everyone. Misogyny, homophobia, racism all run rampant in today’s society.

Is there any way we can improve things? Can we train ourselves to treat others with respect and compassion, even if we don’t know them? Can we overcome our baser instincts and be more humane? On a personal level, what do you do if you suspect you might be succumbing to your darker nature?

Related questions: How can we encourage meaningful conversation? Why do we hate? How can you love someone who does something you hate? Why does social media often bring out the worst in us?

How Can We Encourage Curiosity?

Curiosity is an important trait to have for any healthy human. How can we make sure that we are as curious as possible?

There are many ways that curiosity helps us, and there are also ways that a lack of it can hurt us.

For instance, being curious about our environment is how we learn as children. We wonder about about the things around us, and that helps us with motor skills, language, reasoning, and other developmental skills.

It also helps us continue our education, both formally and informally. Formally through school and from teachers, and informally as we read on our own and in the hobbies we pursue.

To see how a lack of curiosity can hurt us, look no further than today’s political climate. Most people are content in echo feedback chambers, listening to opinions that mirror their own. They seek out news outlets that confirm their own viewpoint, and may even choose friends the same way.

One way out of this problem is to be curious about people you disagree with. Do you dismiss them out of hand, or do you wonder why they have another opinion? Being curious about something different — different religion, political party, skin color, native language,  and so on — allows us to be more understanding.

Curiosity can also lead to better mental health. As we age, learning about things you don’t already know keeps our brains flexible. It can help our own health as well as helping society at large.

So those are some of the benefits. But what are the specific methods we can employ to achieve these positive outcomes? What can we do in our everyday lives to encourage curiosity?

Related questions: How do you learn? What does it mean to be healthy? How do you adopt new ideas? How can we maintain wonder?

How Are You Misunderstood?

One of the most difficult things about being human is how isolated we are. No one truly knows us, and every day we are misunderstood — sometimes in big ways, sometimes small.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy for misunderstandings to arise. At work, at home, at school, our image of ourselves is different from what others see.

You mean one thing, but say something else, even if what you say is close to what you meant. Your actions are misinterpreted. Your motivations are misassigned.

No one knows what goes on in your head but you. No amount of exposition, no amount of explanation is sufficient for complete understanding.

Despite our best efforts, our inner monologue is something that is unknown to all but ourselves. Even the people that know us best — our parents, our spouse, our loved ones — often misunderstand us.

In what ways are you misunderstood by those around you? How do you act, what do you say, which of your written words are misinterpreted? What traits do you have that go unheralded or unappreciated? And what do you do to address this?

Related questions: How do you think others see you? How are you underappreciated? Do you feel lonely? How do you talk about yourself?

Why Do Some People Like To Be Scared?

From scary movies to extreme roller coasters, some people enjoy being scared. But why? What is appealing about being frightened?

Halloween has some traditions that are fun, but there are also some that are legitimately scary. While some costumes, for example, are pop-culture references, or animals. Others though, are intended to be legitimately frightening, like zombies or vampires.

Some people actually enjoy being scared. Horror movies are often quite successful at the box office, for instance. Similarly, in the days and weeks leading up to Halloween, haunted houses, with jump scares and fake blood, have long lines.

Why should this be? Most people spend their lives trying to avoid fear, or at least trying to be comfortable. They might move away from a neighborhood that has a lot of crime, or carry a flashlight on a dark road.

So then, why court fear? What is it about being scared that is so enjoyable?

Perhaps it is a matter of facing your fears so that they no longer have a hold over you. Maybe some enjoy the adrenaline rush that accompanies a jump scare. Perhaps there is some subtle difference between a truly scary situation, and one that is only imagined or acted out.

Do you have any theories on why fear plays a big role in the lives of some people? Are you one of those people? If so, what do you get out of the act of being frightened?

Related questions: What is your favorite scary movie? Are you scared of the dark? What is your favorite holiday? Vampires or zombies? Trick or treat?

 

What Does An Audience Owe The Artist?

One of the most interesting aspects of art is the relationship between the artist, who creates the art, and the audience, who interprets it.

The artist obviously has something in mind when they create, no matter if what they create is a piece of music, a painting, or something else altogether. That inspiration may or may not be obvious to the person or people who see the finished work.

The artist and the audience may never meet, and there is no guarantee that someone experiencing the piece will know anything at all about the person who created it. That not only includes who the artist is, but also what they are trying to convey in the work they have created.

However, there is a relationship between creator and consumer. Art is a means of communicating from one person to another, even if that communication is indirect.


Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss a related question: ‘How can we maintain wonder?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘How do you think others see you?’


With that in mind, does the audience for a work of art have any responsibility to the artist? Do they owe serious consideration, honest emotion, setting an appropriate context, or even learning about the intention during creation?

Does it vary from artist to artist, and/or from audience to audience? Does it depend on the type of art created? For example, does someone looking at a painting have a different obligation to the painter than someone listening to some music owes the composer and/or performer? What about a play, or some other public performance?

Related questions: What is art? Art: Create or consume? How important is the artist to art?