Humanism and Resiliency

Humanism and Resiliency

Why our heros inspire us to be the best that we can be and why that’s a good thing.

Who is Your Hero?

I was fortunate enough to be included in the latest edition of Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism journal.  Thanks John for including me, I truly am not worthy considering the quality of the articles in the journal.  One of them was from a man named Joachim Duyndam and his essay is titled “Humanism, Resilience, and the Hermenuetics of Exemplary Figures.”

And yes, that is a mouthful.  However, working my way through it I thought he had something very important to say about what Humanism is and how we as Humanists can use it. It has to do with resiliency. Now, there is no good way to cut to the chase on this, so I am going to provide a summary of his arguments.

Humans learn through emulation and imitation. 

This is both a good and a bad thing. We sometimes imitate good things. But just as often, we imitate bad examples and when enough of us imitate bad examples without thinking about whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, we can become a self-defining herd. And that’s not a good thing.

However, we also learn by being inspired by the exemplary behavior of others. These are our heros who we try to emulate. A hero is a hero because their story or narrative has them embodying an ideal we like despite pressure to abandon that ideal. In other words, they do the right thing despite pressure to go along with the herd. They resist the pressure to conform.

While we can’t emulate their specific behavior because, perhaps we haven’t been tortured or enslaved as they were, we can however, emulate their courage to put their values into action and emulate them by applying their willingness to resist into our own experiences. And again, this is a good thing. And this is certainly a major theme of academic Humanism. Every story we read, every work of art, helps inform us of not only what it is to be human, but what we should be like as humans. What we should be aspiring to. This is the essence of Humanism.  A good hero story is invaluable in this regard.

How and why does resiliency come into this?

Resilience is important because while courage to be autonomous is important, we can only be autonomous in relation to others or outside pressure. And this is key. We don’t really want to be fully autonomous. We want to be autonomous as it relates to negative influences, but not positive ones. Because some of the things we are driven to imitate are actually good.  This is all about balance, and that’s where resiliency comes in.

Humanism can be thought of as a form of mental resilience. The ability to resist pressure placed on us from others when needed, our willingness to imitate good examples when appropriate and the wisdom and desire to know the difference.

This is why hero stories where the hero resists extreme and explicitly and often physical pressure are so inspiring. It wasn’t just run of the mill resistance they embody and call upon us to emulate. These are people whose values and belief in the good of humanity was put to an extreme test and who not only didn’t compromise their values, they also didn’t lose their love of humanity in the process. Hence, they are resilient and not simply resistant. They maintain what is good in situations most of us would be at our worst in. And that’s something most people aspire to because being good under pressure is REALLY hard.

Basically what Duyndam is saying is that Humanism inspires us to be resilient. But being resilient isn’t just a onetime thing. It is an ongoing process we have to choose to do over and over and over again. And that is why Joachim Duyndam says, “Becoming resilient and remaining resilient, that is humanism.”

What are your thoughts about this? Did any of it resonate with you? What is your favorite hero story and why? What about it inspires you?