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?

Do You Follow The Golden Rule?

The Golden Rule — treat others as you wish to be treated — is a sentiment common in cultures and religions across the world. Do you follow it?

The idea is a simple one, easily stated, and easily understood. And yet, it can be very difficult to practice.

There are many reasons why you might not follow the Golden Rule. They might vary from self-interest, fear, or even kindness.

For instance, you might well think that you want someone to come to your aid if you are in trouble. However, fear might prevent you from helping someone else in a dangerous situation.

In another situation, you might tell a small lie to spare the feelings of someone you love, even if you think you would want the truth in return.


Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘What are our responsibilities to others?’ We also discuss another question as well, ‘Are we too busy?’


In our state and national politics, we see the Golden Rule violated frequently. One elected official, for example, may vote against offering aid to another state in a disaster, and yet accepts the helping hand when the disaster befalls them. No doubt you can think of numerous other examples.

There are endless opportunities to treat others the way you wish to be treated. In fact, just about every interaction with someone else is such a chance. It might be face-to-face, online, or from hundreds or thousands of miles away. It might include actions, speech, or even thoughts about someone else.

Can you think of notable examples where you followed the Golden Rule? Are there times when you didn’t?

Related questions: How do you serve others? What expectations do you have of others? How do other people motivate you? Why does social media often bring out the worst in us? Why do we hate?

Do Animals Have Rights?

The concept of inherent rights is well established for humans. Do any of those rights extend to animals?

Humans are born (at least in the United States) with certain “unalienable” rights, which include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Bill of Rights enumerate additional rights. Other countries may differ in exact language, but in most places it is assumed that humans have some rights from birth.

Other animals are not human, however, and human laws and ideas do not automatically extend to them. But what are the differences between humans and other animals, and do those differences really matter?

One difference, of course, is that other animals don’t have laws, or form governments. Why should human laws and rights apply to non-humans?

While it is true that no animal other than humans have written a constitution, it is not clear that a written document is needed. A colony of bees has a well-defined hierarchy, for instance. You could almost consider a hive to be the equivalent of a (human) country.

What about the argument that humans are sentient, and they are the only such animal? That argument relies on the definition of sentience, and there does not seem to be a way to know for certain if other animals are, in fact, sentient.

Human laws are often written for the benefit of those people who do not have any political power. They allow for people with little or no power to avoid being taken advantage of by those who do. That would certainly seem to describe animals, who quite literally have no voice.

And yet, there are some rights which cannot and should not apply to animals. No taxation without representation? That doesn’t make any sense at all — animals don’t pay taxes, and it would seem impossible to give (direct) representation to, say, a bear.

So what rights, if any, should (non-human) animals have?

Related questions: Does nature have rights? How are humans like other animals? How are they different? Personal rights or public safety? What are our responsibilities to others?

How Do Other People Motivate You?

When it comes to motivation, one type comes from outside — namely, from other people. How do others motivate you?

There are many ways that other people might encourage you to work harder, be more thoughtful, give more to charity, or many other ways to improve yourself.

For example, one way is through setting an example. If you see someone else that you respect behave in a particular way, it may motivate you to emulate that behavior.

Or consider guilt. A loved one might make you feel guilty about something you did or didn’t do. Those feelings of guilt may change your behavior.

Love, fear, envy, and many other emotions can be called upon by someone else. There are plenty of stories of people doing strange things for love. A bad boss may motivate through fear. And someone else’s success — their money, job, family, and so on — can drive you to work even harder to keep up.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways someone else can be a motivational force in your life. Can you think of examples from your own life? How do others motivate you?

Related questions: What motivates you? What expectations do you have of others? How do you depend on others? Who is the most important person in your life?

If You Were To Do Something To Honor Someone, Who Would It Be And What Would You Do?

If you were to choose a person to honor, and a method by which to honor them, who would you choose and what would you do?

There are times in your life when one person has a significant impact on your growth or development. You may wish, at some point, to honor that person, and the way in which they influenced you.

Which raises a couple of related questions.

The first question is: how do you decide? What metric should you use, when evaluating the influence someone has had on you, if that person merits an honor?


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?’


A second question is: what do you do? In what way can you convey, to yourself and others, that an honor of some sort is being bestowed?

The exact nature of the honor can vary quite drastically, based on a number of different variables. For instance, it may depend on the person being honored, if they are alive or dead, and what the relationship was between you.

Or it might depend on the nature of the influence. You may choose, for instance, to honor the role your parents played in your upbringing by visiting them, or calling them regularly.

It may also depend on the resources available to the person doing the honoring. It can be as simple as a card in the mail, or as elaborate as a dedicated building.

Have you ever honored someone, and if so, how? If not, can you think of a person and a way in which you might do the honoring?

Related questions: Who is the most important person in your life? How could you show your appreciation for others more? Who would serve on your personal board of directors? Who was your best teacher? Do you give to charitable or social causes?