Lessons on Humanism – Preamble:
We intend to deliver a few lessons to the children of school-going age on the subject of ‘Humanism’. We like to talk in simple language. But before we start doing that, it is important that we make a short introduction to the subject.
Like various species around us, human beings, too, have gone through a process of physical evolution. It is as old as the earth is. Evolution is a slow and a long process. Scientists believe that human beings are not at a final stage in regard to their physical evolution. That can mean many amusing things. We may lose some more limbs or find them coming up in some other shape. There should be nothing surprising if our ears or legs or arms shorten. Some predict that our heads may become bigger because we shall be more brains and fewer or smaller muscles.
As that happens, there is also the truth that our mental faculties are in a process of development. That is something very sensational. They are in the process of a change. From stone -age when man lit fire by rubbing two stones together, he has come to the age when he is sending rocket to another planet called the Mars. How do we feel and visualize our mental faculties undergoing a change? The answer is that through the nature of relationship that we may develop with other human beings or their groups, we shall be able to determine the change in mental attitudes. We are ready for a more advanced and higher stage of thinking and visualizing and planning. What does this advanced stage mean? It means moving away from what we have been thinking and doing in the past or at present. It means coming closer to our specie. It also means demonstrating the most advanced faculty hidden in us.
That powerful faculty is of considering the entire human species as one piece of creation. Of course, there are some visible differences, like those of physical features and color and language or many other things. These are divisible into two parts. Part one is the difference in terms of physical appearance like height, weight, color and shape. The other part is language, culture, life style and the rest of it. As far as visible physical distinction is concerned, it has resulted from the environs and geographical conditions in which the evolution of human beings took place. We cannot help that. But as far as language, culture, faith or lifestyle are concerned; these are what various groups devised during the course of history. These are acquired characteristics.
The idea from this discussion is that human beings have inherited something from the environs in which they were born and brought up. But essentially they are of the same origin and same group. Group – feeling is a sentiment most powerful among all living creatures. Human beings are no exception. But this feeling has to be positive and constructive not beastly.
Our mental evolutionary process, has forced us move away from individualistic and selfish character to universal character. It means that we concede the right of others to the same type of life style, freedom of thought and expression as we chose for ourselves. When this is the situation, we call it humanism.
Therefore in short humanism means a sense of fellow – feeling. It means that all human beings on this earth have the right to live together in peace and harmony and share together the bounties of nature. When these ideas take root in our mind, we have become humanists and then we think of entire humanity not only of our small group or ourselves. It is from this basis that we begin our lessons on ‘Humanism’.
Lessons on Humanism – Lesson 1, Diversity:
Children and also adults are thrilled to see a rainbow in the sky. It is multi-colored.
As we watch it, we do not concentrate on any one of its colors. We take the whole rainbow into our perspective. That is what gives us joy. We see a well-maintained bed of flowers. There are flowers of various hues in it, crimson, pink, blue, white and so on. It is indeed a riot of colors. Our eye moves from end to end. And these flowers are of various shapes, cup-shaped, tumbler – shaped, flat or round or conical etc.
As we watch the whole flowerbed, our eye does not rest at any one particular flower or color or shape. The vision of the flowerbed enthralls us and we feel overjoyed.
We do not ask why there are different colors in the rainbow. We do not ask why there are flowers of so many hues and shapes. These questions get drowned in the joy and thrill which this colorfulness brings us.
We call this colorfulness diversity. It is true of human beings as well. We have on this earth people of various races like the Aryans, the Mongoloids, and the Semitics etc. We have also people of different faiths and languages. Their features are in many ways different from one another. For example, the people descending from the Mongol race have wide nostrils and flat foreheads. The Aryans have broad forehead, straight and long nose and longish face.
Again the color of the skin of these races and their sub-groups are slightly different from one another. The Aryans may be of white color and the Semites of dark color and others could be of wheatish color called Caucasian. It is just like a bed of flowers or a rainbow.
When we feel thrilled by a colorful flowerbed, why should we not feel joyful on having colorful human race on this earth? It would be unjust on our part to feel happy on a colorful flowerbed but discriminatory about the colorful human specie.
This colorfulness is called diversity. We hope the meaning of the word diversity is clear to you.
The first lesson in humanism is to understand that nature loves diversity because it is beautiful, joyful and thrilling. Diversity should bring us closer to one another in terms of race, faith, language and culture. As we come closer, we construct a common group called human society. With that we begin to think not only of people closest to us and of ourselves alone but also of people everywhere on this earth. Looking at the whole human spectrum should give us a great joy and satisfaction. In other words it creates in us a sense of belonging to one another. That is humanism in letter and in spirit.
Therefore, what we learn from this lesson is that diversity is the law of nature. It is full of excitement and joy and hence has to be welcomed. Human beings are also diverse and their diversity has to be accepted as something attractive.
As we look at a large flowerbed and despite diversity of colors and shapes of flowers, we take the wholesome view of the flowerbed to give us inner joy, similarly when we take the diverse humanity into consideration; we take the wholesome view of human specie into account and call it unity. From this has developed the big idea of unity in diversity. This concept forms the basis of humanism. It means that though we human beings are diverse in many ways, yet we are united as human beings.
This then is the first lesson in the subject of humanism. We have to forget diversity. We have to forget that we exclusively belong to this race or this group or this class. We are human beings and humanism is the trademark by which we are identified.
Lessons on Humanism – Lesson 2 – Conquering Hatred and Anger:
The famous axiom is ‘charity begins at home’. This is true of humanism. We firs need to become human beings ourselves. And we practice is better than precept.
It means what we teach others to do, we should be able to do it ourselves first. As human beings we inherit some weaknesses either through our genes or as a result of environment in which we live. It is true no human being is without weaknesses. Therefore the stuff we are to deal with has its weaknesses. We are not dealing with angels.
Hatred and anger are among more unwanted weaknesses in human beings. Hatred for fellow beings is totally unacceptable. We hate because we think ourselves at a higher social, economic or moral level in comparison to others we dislike. This is a fallacy. Social, economic and moral levels have been set forth by us through a fractured social system. Unless that social structure is toned up and universalized, we have no right to call one level as the standard level and the other as under standard.
We said in the first lesson that diversity is the law of nature. Diversity in human nature is also a rule. It is not a sin to fall but it is a sin remain fallen. Like Pilgrim Fathers, we fall a step back to go two steps forward. Hatred begets hatred just as love begets love. Love thy neighbour is the universal truth. Hatred is the anti-thesis of love. Love can tame even the ferocious of animals. Love turns poison into elixir of life. Love turns a “demon” into an “angel”. Conversely, hared turns gold into rubble. Hatred is also the cause of deep-seated tension, which can eat into one’s vitals. We hate only to be hated in return. Are we satisfied with this situation. I don’t think so. A wise person does not hate but tries to understand the layers and dimensions of human nature. He must understand it so that he keeps a distance from this weakness.
Likewise anger is an extreme mood in human beings. It has to be controlled. A balanced man does not give space to anger. It blinds our judgment. It takes us away from righteousness. It misleads us into a wilderness of suspicion and doubt. Anger makes us commit unpardonable follies, cognisable crimes and un-remitted mortification.
A balanced mind that is not moved by emotion and unreasoned excitement is a mind that can absorb anger just as a sponge absorbs water. Anger reveals the beast in man and obliterates the human element in him or her. Nothing done in and said in angry should carry weight, moral or legal. And anger generally makes one repent on what he did and said in a state of imbalance because anger is a state of imbalance.
Humanism is a state of balance. It is reasoned reaction to what is expected of us as the specimen of rationality. A person who has conquered hatred and anger has endeared himself to his specie more than anything else. He gains in respect and credibility. His word has weight and his action has the moral sanction.
Therefore conquering hatred and anger is a tough exercise, which asks for sustained training and practical implementation.
Lessons on Humanism – Lesson 3 – Practice:
A close look at how we behave in our day-to-day life will show that we indeed practice humanism rather unconsciously. The need is to do so consciously. Thousands of spectators sit in a stadium to watch a soccer contest between two top teams. They rejoice and raise loud cries when a goal is scored or a brilliant move is made. Hundreds of thousands of hands are raised in applause and the superb skill of the players is appreciated. This is a general reaction to a sight that brings joy to one and all.
The spectators do not make any distinction while applauding the game. It is their spontaneous expression. They appreciate the art we human beings can develop and the eye that appreciates it. These are all manifestations of humanism.
The two teams play demonstrating the finest of their skills and superb sportsmanship. They are fierce contestants of the cup on the ground. For two hours they struggle to snatch the lead. Ultimately, one team loses and the other wins. Yet at the end of the day, they shake hands, exchange smiles and leave the ground without anger and animus. When they sit round the table for dinner, they appreciate one another, and show no jealousy. That is what sportsmanship has taught them. This is the finest part of their humanism.
There are other ways that we actually practice humanism in our day-to-day life. This may be in very ordinary ways. An old and weak woman wants to board the bus. A person standing by supports her and helps her get on to the bus. There is nothing by way of give and take. But there is much in reality. That is humanism. The person who extends his support feels within his heart he has done something expected of him.
Now this sense of ‘expecting something from me’ needs to be extended to more vital aspects of life. It needs to be applied universally. Naturally, it will lead us to think that we are not just one or two persons around us but a larger and broader segment of human beings that need to be treated with compassion and understanding. A bond of relationship is developed.
We have now seen that there are diverse sections of human beings living on this globe. We have seen that their diversity is acceptable. We have also seen that we can and should overcome human weaknesses like anger and hatred because these are the hangover of our brute nature. And finally se have seen that we do practice humanism in life’s smaller things. The need is to extend the purview of this practice to wider and larger aspects of life in general and without discrimination.