The 4 C’s of Humanism
Critical Thinking, Compassion, Courage, Commitment
Defining Humanism is such a difficult thing to do. There is no easy way to say – this is what Humanism is and have that be the end of it. It is a life philosophy. It is vibrant and full of nuance, and that’s why it works so well.
Humanism has no dogma. Instead, there are a series of interrelated principles that we apply to the daily business of living our lives. To make matters worse, we apply these principles in a situational based way. This means we have to think about how to balance these sometimes competing principles to arrive at a good or moral conclusion. And, we rarely agree.
A lot of people have a problem with this aspect of Humanism. The idea that Humanists might actively disagree about what is or isn’t moral or right or wrong not just with other Humanists, but that we would actively spend time thinking about what we ourselves think is right as a regular and daily activity seems like a strange way to approach living. For a Humanist though, it makes a lot of sense. Yes, it requires work, but it is emotionally very satisfying to know where you stand and to know that you are doing the best you can do do good, despite the fact that sometimes, you get it wrong.
Anyway in this essay I wanted to take 4 principles of Humanism, randomly chosen because they all start with the letter “C” and to discuss why these are important to Humanists and how they combine to create a powerful approach to thinking and being.
These are in no particular order because it is best to think of Humanism as a philosophy that integrates and balances a variety of approaches to the problem of living life successfully. Which approach is best depends entirely on the situation.
The first C is for Critical Thinking. In order to think through moral problems well, you have to think well and the practice of critical thinking helps us do that. Heck, just to be able to decide which principle to apply requires critical thinking. It’s central to Humanism, but certainly not enough. It is the tool that allows us to decide which of the other principles to invoke.
It ain’t Humanism if it isn’t compassionate. Humanists aren’t just concerned for our own welfare, though we most definitely are. We feel it is important to balance our needs against the needs of others. What good does it do us if in our quest to succeed, we hurt other people? Humanists view ourselves as interdependent individuals. We have to balance our need for autonomy with our need for community. To make sure we have a community to support us, we have to be actively compassionate. This gives us the motivation to be responsible for making sure the community which supports us is a thriving one. If we are selfish, and harm our community, we realize we are also harming ourselves. So, compassion for ourselves and our community in a balanced way.
Courage is essential to morality. The fact is we humans are social herd animals. We want and need to fit in. The downside to that is that in our effort to fit in, we sometimes do harm to others. Bullying is just one of the many group dynamics where a don’t stand out from the herd mentality is evidenced. In order to be good and to do good and to be moral, we have to know when to stand alone and we also have to have the courage to stand alone. To do this well requires both critical thinking and courage and compassion.
Because none of this is easy, you have to have an ongoing commitment to the process and the principles if you are going to actually manifest your finest qualities. What helps us find that commitment? Critical thinking, compassion and courage!
So there you have it. My quick list of 4 Cs that embody Humanism. Can you think of another C word that applies to the Humanist approach? If so, please share and expound on your thoughts!