Witnessing Humaneness

A Guide in Humane Awareness

In the last chapter on cruelty to oneself, I noted that when the term "cruelty" is googled, the search results primarily relate to animals and animal protection. Similarly, when "humane" is entered as a search term, the majority of items found deal with animals. But "humane" is a term that needs to be more frequently used in our discussion of the way humans treat each other and themselves.

In the section entitled, "How this Course Works," I showed how the Humane Movement provides a good model to consider humane concepts. The humane movement promotes:

  • 1. Being kind to others (animals)
  • 2. Refraining from harming others (animals)
  • 3. Preventing or alleviating the suffering of others (animals)

In my suggestion that a Spectrum of Kindness is based on degrees of awareness in a kind act, the eighth level was designated as Proactive Kindness. In a sense, true humaneness is proactive kindness, for in promoting kindness and harmlessness, or in preventing cruelty and alleviating suffering, one is essentially controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than waiting to respond to it after it happens.

When we witness someone being humane towards another, our innate humane sensibility is activated and we are motivated to be humane as well. Whether or not we choose to act on this impulse is another matter. However, learning about humane concepts brings us closer to understanding the importance and vitality that come with exercising one's right to be humane. Yes, humaneness is a right. We all have the right to be treated with humane respect, and the right to treat others humanely.

According to Wikipedia, "At its most fundamental, a right is a claim, on other persons, that is acknowledged and reciprocated among the principles associated with that claim. The most basic of rights is a principle of interaction between people which amounts to the simplest version of the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). In other words, it is a mutually beneficial agreement between two or more people; each of them agrees to behave in a certain way towards the others so that they will behave in the same way towards him/her."

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 witnessed someone being humane towards another:

  • What were you aware of?

    An interaction between a father, son and their dog.

  • What thoughts were you thinking?

    This boy is fortunate to have a caring and wise parent.

  • What were you feeling?

    Gentle, warm feelings.

  • What were you doing at the time?

    Resting in the park after a bike ride.

Not many people would disagree with the fact that we should promote kindness in children, starting from an early age. However, we need to promote kindness in all people, young and old, all the time. Learning about kindness, cruelty and humane concepts is not just for kids. When we explore and reflect upon these concepts, we are activating and stimulating our innate humaneness, leading us towards carrying out humane acts towards others and ourselves.

There is an organization based in Denver, Colorado, called The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, which was established in 1995. As a delegate to the World Kindness Movement, which includes various nations, the Foundation is spreading kindness and compassion throughout the world. The organization also prepares and disseminates school and community lesson aids and programs which help people discover, for themselves, the power of kindness to effect positive change in the world and in oneself. In promoting Random Acts of Kindness Weeks and Days throughout the world, the Foundation notes that "it is the completely unexpected gestures to or from total strangers that have the most impact on our lives."

There is another organization called the Human Kindness Foundation, located in Durham, North Carolina. This group "stresses a way of life based upon three common principles taught by the great sages of all religions: Simple living, a dedication to service, and a commitment to personal spiritual practice." Co-Founder, Bo Lozoff, established the Ashram-Prison program for inmates who are looking to change their lives. The program "inspires and encourages prisoners and prison staff to recognize their depth as human beings, and to behave accordingly."

Both these organizations, in promoting kindness, offer the opportunity for us to be aware while we are witnessing one being humane towards another. In leading people to be kind, these organizations make us stop to think about the presence or lack of humaneness in our lives, leading us towards making the decision to be humane.

We strengthen our humane spirit when we promote kindness through being kind and humane in our relations with our friends, family members, co-workers, neighbours and strangers. One may have a thought, for example, that someone we know would benefit from an act of kindness. This thought can remain a thought or it can be transformed into an action. In seizing the occasion to be kind and humane to others and oneself, we also provide the opportunity for others to witness humaneness, and to recognize this quality in themselves.

Copyright © Kenneth Hemmerick 2005
All Rights Reserved

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