Get a random group of people together in today’s world and it’s highly unlikely that all of them will agree on anything. Except this:
We are in trouble.
Just when things looked better in the ongoing pandemic, the Delta variant swooped in (thanks to the anti-vaxers) and the masks are back on and the hospitals filling.
Storms, floods and fires wreak destruction across the land and temperatures in the last decade are higher than any in recorded history. The scientists keep moving up the deadline to turn around the time left before the irrevocable damage of climate change becomes irreversible.
Just at a time when we know more than ever about what needs to be done, large segments of the population have retreated into denial, purposeful ignorance and wild conspiracy theories, led by power-hungry leaders who care about nothing beyond their own power and privilege.
We are in trouble.
And though some cling to the fantasy that they can win by making others lose, viruses and storms and fires don’t discriminate. Thus, the world presents us with another irrefutable truth:
We are in this together. We need each other to both survive and thrive and we need each other at our highest level of human possibility.
That suggests—no, insists—that we contribute from our own corner of creation. Imagine what might happen if people of all professions used their expertise on behalf of the common good. Dream with us here that therapists schooled in healing personal pain and trauma expanded their scope to include collective pain and trauma. Athletes schooled in teamwork on the court could model for all of us how to work together off the court. Farmers with deep understanding of the cycles and seasons of the land could educate us as to how to better caretake our precious resources. Historians could illuminate the recurring patterns that continue to bring us bad news each day and suggest how to stop the hurting and harming.
In short, wherever our passion takes us, we should consider how to go beyond simply doing our job as it has always been done and move beyond that into a larger territory where it has rarely ventured. A place where all our divisive constructions— race, religion, politics and so on—must be left at the door, where dogmas and beliefs and illusionary certainties are left behind and like little children going into an unexplored woods, we hold hands and walk together alert in all our faculties. Of all the “isms” that give us the structure and focus we crave, there is perhaps just one that would qualify for entrance— humanitarianism.
Humanitarianism is defined as “an active belief in the value of human life, whereby human beings practice benevolent treatment and provide assistance to other humans in order to improve the conditions of humanity for moral, altruistic and logical reasons.”
The presence of that last clause indicates that a humanitarian perspective is optional. Now those “moral, altruistic and logical reasons” can be replaced with one idea—“survival.” To "practice benevolent treatment and provide assistance to others humans in order to survive." What a mere few decades ago felt like something only nice, generous people with time on their hands might consider has moved from luxury to necessity. The definition goes on:
“Humanitarianism is today primarily understood as voluntary emergency aid.” but strike the word “voluntary” and understand that the “emergency” is ongoing and we arrive at a new definition: We are in a time of mandatory emergency aid. All people in all walks of life are called upon to nurture, develop, sustain and put into action their highest humanitarian impulses.
That means, for example, that music teachers still need to teach 6/8 meter and help kids understand pentatonic scales, but with a different purpose than simply meeting some national standard of expected knowledge. Those skills and understandings become tools to a personal expression that can sing the soul’s deepest need. A soul at home with itself has no need to harm others—and so the implications are larger. Likewise, music as a practice of communication with others, both the actual playing with fellow musicians and the hope to bring beauty into the audience’s life, become part of the larger healing we all need. In short, if all people in all walks of life think of their craft as mandatory emergency aid—which includes considering abandoning their craft (weapons makers and dealers and drug dealers and political hatemongers take note ), a new humanitarianism may help walk us toward a more hopeful and healthful future.
Think about this as you go to work today.