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?

2 thoughts on “How Can Humans Become More Humane?”

  1. Over the long term, humans becoming more humane will require that we raise children to be so. Sure, there are things you can do to act more humanely. It is, in fact, a choice, and a choice that others may respect you for. But to make lasting change, we must focus on raising children who aren’t prone to hate.

    For example, this morning, I read a widely shared post on Facebook about someone who, while not a fan of Taylor Swift, would not trash her. The post points out that during the Super Bowl, so many adults expressed outright hatred of her every time a camera showed her on the TV. The post’s author noted, “Your children are watching you judge a woman for literally just EXISTING and taking up space happily.”

    In addition, we need to teach kids not to “other” the stranger. They must also be prone to come to the aid of people who are improperly ridiculed or those who are bullied–often for “isms” like racism, sexism, classism, ableism, ageism, anti-semitism, homophobia, or xenophobia. And we need to teach children about our past, which doesn’t just feed them the version of history the powerful want us to know but also the histories of the ordinary people, as well as the powerless and the oppressed.

    Lastly, we must teach children to be less fearful and more curious.

  2. Suspicion and a healthy distrust are a natural and necessary part of staying alive whether human or animal. Balancing that with compassion, friendship and trust, which is in part natural and part learned behavior is the goal, and works most of the time. Most of the problems you refer to are 10% or less. Better training of both children and adults can perhaps make that even better.

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