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?

Why Are We Sad When Someone We Don’t Know Dies?

When someone dies who had an impact on us — a beloved entertainer from our childhood, for example — we are sad, even though we don’t know the figure personally. But why should that be?

There is no doubt that there is an emotional reaction to the news of someone’s death. For people we know and interact with, that is understandable. That person’s place in our life is missing.

However, we also feel sadness for some we have never met. For instance, a musician who sang a particularly meaningful song, or an author who wrote a touchstone book.

But why? The meaningful part — the song, say, or the book — still exist. They are not being erased from the public consciousness, and in fact may gain some awareness from the creator’s death.

Is it that the person will no longer be creating anything that might move you similarly? Chances are, unless you are a completist, there is music from that artist you have never heard, or books by that author you have never read. There is still new material  — new to you, that is — to be discovered.

Perhaps it is general empathy. We are sad to hear of someone’s death. A life with value has come to an end, which is a cause for mourning.

And yet, people with value die every minute of every day. With eight billion people on the planet, we cannot mourn the passing of each and every one — we would live in a constant tsunami of sadness.

So why, then, are we affected by these individual deaths? Why are we not happy that the person existed in the first place, and created such impactful works of art? Why not take joy that our world can produce such people, who in turn create such meaning?

There is no doubt that we are saddened by the news of these passings. It seems obvious that the feelings exist. But is there a reason why? Why do we feel sad when someone we don’t know dies?

Related questions: Why are people afraid of death? What is the nature of celebrity? What makes you nostalgic? What are you sad about?

Why Does Social Media Often Bring Out The Worst In Us?

Most social media platforms run rampant with insults, bullying, misinformation, and other unpleasant behavior. Why?

The Internet promised to revolutionize society. It provides a publishing platform to anyone who wants one. Collaboration, even among geographically distant people, becomes simple. A previously unheard of amount of information is available at our fingertips, at any time of day or night.

All these things are true — along with other benefits — but there is a dark side to the Internet as well. After more than a decade since the introduction of social media platforms, our society is more divided than any time in recent memory. People live in echo chambers of their beliefs, and emerge only to call others names. No one actually talks to people with differing viewpoints, and on the rare instances that they do, no one listens.


Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss a related question: ‘How can we encourage debate?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘What is the value of inefficiency?’


There are many possible reasons for this. The Internet in general, and social media outlets in particular, allow for anonymity. This shields individuals from the consequences of their speech, emboldening them to lash out. Even if your name is attached to everything you say, typing on the keyboard of a computer is different from saying the same thing to someone else’s face.

And while the Internet makes it easier to meet people with similar hobbies or interests, it also makes it easier for those with bigoted or prejudiced ideas to find like-minded individuals across the country.

These are just some of the reasons people are nasty to each other online. Can you think of others? Have there been times when you said something online you would later regret? Why do you think that is?

Why does social media often bring out the worst in us? What changes could be made to improve things?
Related questions: What do you get out of social media? What makes us comment on social media? Why do we hate? How can we encourage meaningful conversation?

In What Ways Do You Defy Gender Stereotypes?

Society has some pretty well-established gender stereotypes. In what ways do you not match up with those stereotypes?

Gender stereotypes are pervasive, starting with people’s behavior towards infants. Boys are given blue blankets; girls pink. Young boys play with action figures, while girls play with dolls.

These assumptions continue to adulthood. Men like cars and sports, and are emotionally distant. Women, on the other hand, wear dresses and makeup, and tend to be flighty.


Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss a related question: ‘What gives a person value?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘What makes you you?’


Of course, in reality, each and every one of us is an individual, and so we may find ourselves in agreement with all, some, or none of these commonly-held gender expectations.

Are there any ways in which you feel you don’t fit in with conventional gender roles? How so? And what does that difference mean for how you see yourself, and how others in the community might see you? In what ways do you defy gender stereotypes?

Related questions: How are you a non-conformist? How do you think others see you? Individual or society? What role do sports play in our society?

 

Are There Beliefs About Yourself You’ve Had To Let Go?

It is a simple fact that people change and grow over time. Have you ever been aware of your personal change, and jettisoned beliefs about yourself?

These changes can be something simple and straightforward. For example, later in life you might grow to like a food that you couldn’t stand before. Your belief about yourself (i.e. “I don’t like tomatoes”) might need to be amended, or even dropped.

But sometimes, the belief in question might be quite abstract, or even key to your concept of self. As you age, cornerstone beliefs, like political party, religious affiliation, or career aspirations might need to be tweaked. Some might even require a complete overhaul.


Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss a related question: ‘What beliefs do you have that might be wrong?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘What makes a place feel like home?’


An extreme example of this would be a belief that you felt was central to who you are, one that you swore repeatedly would never change. And yet, over time, as your experiences increase, you attitude might shift subtly at first, and eventually become completely different. Has this ever happened to you?

Introspection can be a valuable tool in your mental health tool kit. Knowing what you believe in, and periodically reviewing those beliefs, can lead to your being honest with yourself. It might also lead to a mo0re fulfilled life.

Do you have any beliefs about yourself that have changed over time?

Related questions: How have you changed? What makes you you? How can we encourage meaningful conversation? What is necessary to change your mind?