Being Humane to Oneself

A Guide in Humane Awareness

Alleviating suffering is one of the important goals of the Humane Movement. To actively alleviate suffering, we must be aware a suffering exists. Once we are aware of the harm or suffering being caused, we can choose to help. Taking direct action requires thought and consideration of one's own abilities to address the suffering. At times, though, we may not be able to help realistically.

Sometimes our help is not appreciated. In these cases, as with kindness and harmlessness, if the act is genuine, and originates from self-respect, feelings of well-being and pride help to compensate for the lack of appreciation.

Often, some feel that they must help in a big way. Little acts such as helping to relieve another's loneliness, talking on the phone with a depressed friend, volunteering with a charitable organization, watering a thirsty plant, visiting a neglected family member are simple acts that go a long way to improve the quality of life, to alleviate suffering and to increase one's own power in being humane.

We can also look within ourselves to see if there is any suffering in our personal lives that can be alleviated. Perhaps one is estranged from a family member or friend because of an argument that occurred years ago, or one is drinking or eating too much, or taking drugs, or one is in an unhappy relationship, or is unfulfilled in a career. Whatever the situation, we can choose to address the suffering or unhappiness in our lives.

When you had the experience:

  • What were you aware of?

  • What thoughts were you thinking?

  • What were you feeling?

  • What were you doing at the time?

Here is my personal experience in which I was humane to myself in alleviating a personal suffering:

  • What were you aware of?

    How much pain I was in.

  • What thoughts were you thinking?

    I can't go on like this.

  • What were you feeling?

    Terrorized about having to have dental surgery

  • What were you doing at the time?

    Lying in my bed at night.

The above example shows that a phobia, which caused me great misery, can be overcome with a decision to act on dealing with the fear. In the process of coming to terms with my fear, I gained new confidence in my ability to address suffering in my life.

Many people wonder why there has to be suffering or cruelty in the world in the first place. I believe that suffering or cruelty in the world exists so that we have the opportunity to alleviate the suffering or eradicate the cruelty. When we seize the opportunity to deal with cruelty or suffering, we also help to make the world a little more humane.

Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew term which is usually translated as "repairing the world." In addressing suffering or cruelty, we are in fact repairing or mending the world. Therapist Lou Marinoff, notes there are five ways in which people respond to suffering: (1) they internalize it, (2) try to escape from it, (3) pass it on to others, (4) end it in themselves, or (5) transform it into something helpful.1

There are people who have suffered great tragedies in their lives and the experience has led them to do something positive. Such is the case of John Walsh, host of the TV show America's Most Wanted. In 1981, his six-year old son was abducted and was missing for 16 days until sadly, his son's remains were found 100 miles from his home. John Walsh used his grief and pushed for victim's rights. Through his show, hundreds of fugitives have been captured, and missing people and children have been found. 2

In this section on humaneness, the Humane Movement was used as an example to define the concept, humane. Humane includes promoting kindness, preventing cruelty, alleviating suffering and not hurting others and oneself.

Humaneness was described as proactive kindness, which is a choice we can make in our relations with others and ourselves. We looked at experiences in which we witnessed, gave and received humaneness. Finally, we learned that the great religions of the world advocate the humane treatment of others. We also learned that humaneness is a right and a responsibility which we can act upon.

In the introductory chapter of this course, entitled, How this Course Works, you were asked to list words that resonate with your personal understanding of the concepts humane and humaneness.

Take a few minutes to find other words that you can now add to this list.

The folllowing words resonate with my personal understanding of the concepts humane and humaneness.

With your expanded knowledge of humaneness, you will now be more aware, thoughtful, compassionate and proactive in your relations with others and yourself. However, like kindness, humane interaction with others is a spiritual muscle that only grows when we fully activate its potential. The more we practise the art of humaneness, the more we become awareness of the power in being humane and its full blessings.

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Copyright © Kenneth Hemmerick 2005
All Rights Reserved

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