I was sharing with a friend about our Humanist work. She responded by saying that she is a human being and so she is also a humanist. I was wondering on her response. Is it same or is there a difference? I proposed that as a topic for our next weekly meeting.
“We neither have copyright on the word ‘Humanist’ nor are we in a business to certify anyone being humanist or not. What we need to be clear is about our meaning of the word Humanist for ourselves.”
I always appreciated this approach of refraining from commenting on anyone else. Each one has one’s own life, perceptions, aspirations and so on. While I am having tough time to understand myself enough, who am I to claim understanding of others and commenting on them?
“Humanist for us refers to a specific attitude that has six precise positions. One of the most important among them is the ‘tendency to develop knowledge beyond conventional wisdom or what is accepted as absolute truth. “
As usual, I required some effort to understand the full meaning. As I realise the word ‘Humanist’ for us has not to do so much with philosophy, as much as an attitude. A specific attitude about the positions we take in front of different situations of life. It seems that this attitude has six precise positions, one of which is about the stand in front of conventional wisdom or what is given as absolute truth.
Now the importance of the words started slowly seeping on to me. All along I have been taught to respect the conventional wisdom. There are notions given to us as absolute truth. And what is proposed as a humanist attitude is to go beyond that. I am perplexed. How can it be? Are not our ancestors wiser and is not the wisdom transmitting from generations to generations?
But as our discussion proceeded examples flew. Once it was given as absolute truth that at night it will be dark, and we must live with it. But humans challenged and created light. It was a truth that human being can’t fly, but humans invented aircrafts. It was a truth that human voice can’t go beyond a certain distance and humans invented telephone. And so on. Examples abound about nature challenged by human and in the process creating new knowledge.
That led us to examples of social truths. Once we were told that women are inferior and can’t vote and then we had feminism. System like slaves and sati were age old but humans questioned and eradicated them. Kings and their right to rule was accepted for centuries, but they were replaced with democracy. Epidemics were accepted as wrath of god but challenging it human invented medicines.
And then the discussions moved to current notions. It is given as absolute truth that humanity needs weapons. Is it so? What amount of resources of humanity are diverted in weapons? It is given that politics is dirty. Is it so? After all great leaders were involved in freedom struggle. It is believed that to have son is better than daughter. Is it so? Are not both human with equal potentials?
I was amazed. This discussion was like peeling an onion. We unfurl one layer and another with more profound depth opened. Next came examples that were really startling.
What about the wisdom being handed over to us about life depending on Karma and Destiny. Are we to accept it as it is or explore the role of human intentionality? And finally, the notion of money as the most important thing in life. I thought that there will be hardly any dispute over this absolute truth. But I myself came up with the realisation that money is required in life but is not sufficient. It can’t buy happiness and love.
“The conventional wisdom got developed according to the state of development of society and knowledge at that time. Humanity evolves and so are these notions.”
If human being had not challenged various notions which were taken as absolute truth once upon a time, life would not have evolved. When one is conforming to given notions, surrendering, accepting things as fait-accompli, then perhaps this element of humanist attitude is missing.
Realisation that humanist does not mean just to be good, but to be proactive in terms of a tendency to develop new knowledge was a new learning with which I progressed in my journey to becoming better human being.