Learning about Humanism


I grew up in a family that stopped going to church when my grandparents were young. My mom must have felt a little guilty and sent my brother and I to Sunday school a couple times but I was just born one of those people who were not buying any of it.  I had a conversation with a university prof (baptist) recently who referred to being an atheist as my religion.  I told him I've always considered atheism to be a lack of religion not a type. I have yet to really formulate a philosophy in life despite being 45 years old already so I'm exploring Humanism. Can anyone recommend any good books on the subject?


Several. First - some free resources - Video: What does it mean to be a Humanist - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shv7htovpbQ

 - video: Applied Humanism - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vzWL2k-ez0

 - Video series: An Introduction to Humanism https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL926B6F22CBF88997

 Humanist Manfesto 1: https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/manifesto1/

 2: https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/manifesto2/

 and 3: https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/manifesto3/

 The 10 Humanist Commitments - https://americanhumanistcenterforeducation.org/living-humanist-values-the-ten-commitments/

 And finally - the books I recommend on Humanism (the first section are my books - but further down the list are the classic works - specifically the one by Corliss Lamont. I also think Ramendra Nath is one of the finest Humanist thinkers alive today. Just my opinion of course. Let me know if you are looking for anything else.

Want to improve your workplace? Encourage kindness.

 There is science behind kindness and it's benefits, not just to the individual, but to organizations.

There is a lovely article over at Quill on tips to spread kindness. https://www.quill.com/blog/office-tips/spread-kindness-in-the-workplace.html

One of the tips is to practice gratitude. Hope this helps. 

Basic Interpersonal Relationship Soft Skills 101

Compassionate rational people meet upset and traumatized people where they are to help them. They don't go on about how this other person's trauma isn't valid or not important or that your intent is more important than their trauma. Whatever happened, is important - to them. And that is what matters to them in the moment.

Now, let's apply these same skills to discussions about racism and sexism and whatever else -ism.

I recently responded to a post by Heterodox Academy. Heterodox Academy is a group of 5,000+ professors, administrators, K-12 educators, staff & students who believe diverse viewpoints & open inquiry are critical to research & learning. https://heterodoxacademy.org/ 

They posted this essay in newsweek from one of their members. https://www.newsweek.com/when-it-comes-fighting-racism-intentions-context-matter-opinion-1582459

It's a good essay and nuanced. I responded to the pull out quote out of context which was, ""A major tenet of anti-racist activism is that intentions don't matter. When an individual speaks a word or asks a question, whether he or she meant to hurt listeners' feelings or to enact a racial microaggression—or to engage in good-faith dialogue—is irrelevant. The impact on listeners is all that should be addressed..."    

I disagree as I don't think that intentions don't matter to anti-racist activists. I think the statement itself is a flawed assumption. Intentions do matter, but may be irrelevant as what is being said may be a factual matter. 

Here is my response.

I'm not sure the first sentence is true. It may be how people who are told - something they said or did is racist - experience it. But that's not necessarily the intent of the person pointing it out. I think it's a communication problem and it stems from being too defensive to listen and understand. What if we reframe this into - this is constructive criticism and not an attack? 

I know from my own personal experience that the first time I experienced this, I was a complete idiot. At the time, some really nice people tried to explain to me why the way I understood what was being said wasn't what they were actually saying at all. And I still didn't get it and couldn't hear it properly. The problem was I was translating what they were saying into an attack on me and that wasn't what they were saying at all. At the time, I didn't get it though I appreciated their obvious intent to help me understand. The problem was that I was too busy defending myself to listen to what they were actually saying. And my defensiveness was TOTALLY unnecessary and counter productive. 

What I understand now is that they were assuming was that I was a good person and that I wanted to be an ally to them and that I would want to know that I was accidentally saying something racist that I had no idea was racist because I didn't know the history of whatever it was. They were providing me constructive feedback. I experienced it as - they don't care that I'm a good person and my intent wasn't' racist at all. What I didn't understand is that they already knew about my context and intent. This wasn't the first time they experienced this sort of thing. It was my first time experience it. Not theirs. 

Now for some loving truth. You simply don't give constructive feedback to people who have bad intentions. I think the overwhelming majority of anti-racist activists understand intentions matter and are assuming the people they are talking to would want to know they are saying something - racist and would want to know more. The problem is, keeping the person you are giving constructive feedback to, from getting defensive.  If you have an image of yourself as a good person and someone says, whoa, that wasn't good, it's natural to get defensive. And when it comes to matters of racism, we should all acknowledge that there is simply no good way to tell a family member or friend that they are sharing Lost Cause propaganda without them feeling attacked.  And yet, it wouldn't be kind to let them continue without correction.

You know they are not racist. You know them to be a good loving person. Someone who would never knowingly share KKK originated propaganda that's been used by white supremacists for over a century. And yet, they just did. Their intent is totally irrelevant at this point because they did just shared well known and historically documented racist KKK propaganda. Good intentions don't mean racist propaganda isn't racist propaganda. That's just a statement of fact. But ... people respond to being told that what they just shared was KKK propaganda as if they are being attacked. That is how they experience receiving this factual information.

The reality is, they aren't being attacked. They are being treated as well intentioned allies who made a mistake and are being given constructive factual and historical feedback. 

So - to answer the question - why doesn't intent matter when we are talking about racism, sexism or other forms of oppression? Because it's irrelevant when we are talking about a factual historical matter. To deny the historical facts, is to deny history and reality. 

The correct way to respond to being told you made a mistake in this area, is to apologize and correct it. This goes for all sides. It's about listening and not centering your anxiety or dignity violations in the conversation, but instead, learning about the dignity violations the other person experienced as a way to understand where they are coming from.

At this point, someone responded and asked a question that was centered on their own sense that their dignity had been violated by someone telling them, they had caused harm.

Here is what they wrote to me:

Granted, racist propaganda is racist propaganda regardless of the speaker's intent. But are all alleged "microaggressions" necessarily racist/sexist...etc. regardless of the speaker's intent? I don't think so. Usually, those sorts of speech acts admit of perfectly innocuous interpretations, which activists are dismissing out of hand.

ex. One time at trivia night, I noticed that one of my female teammates was reading, comprehending, and answering the trivia questions faster than I could even read them. Which struck me as pretty damned impressive (for anybody), so I asked "Wow, how do you read so fast?" She interpreted my question as "Wow how do you [a mere woman] read so fast?" and got pretty indignant.

Do I owe her an apology for my sexism regardless of the fact that that was not what I was asking?

My response:

Second - that was a good question and a good example. If I was coaching someone for this - I'd recommend not being offended that she responded this way. Because her response isn't actually about you. It's about her and all her experiences that led up to that point. You don't know how many times she has been intentionally dismissed by sexists in a very overtly sexist and demeaning manner. If she is a working professional, she absolutely has. You don't know if she was raped by a guy who demeaned her intelligence while doing it. You don't know what sort of household she grew up in and what she has had to overcome in her life. You don't know what her experiences are, or aren't. Her experiences, aren't about you. They are about her. All you need to know is there is a reason she is responding this way - and you getting upset that she doesn't have the mental space to acknowledge your good intent doesn't fix the situation. Her response isn't about you. it's about her and her hurt. 

You know your intent. Don't assume the other person can read minds. She only have her experience to go on. So, you can either choose to be present for her and acknowledge her hurt, which should be easy because you didn't intent to cause harm. Or you can try to make her acknowledge that YOU weren't intending to hurt her and make it all about YOU even though it wasn't about you at all. It's about her and how she was hurt in the past which is impacting how she experiences things in the present. 

Seriously, this is basic interpersonal relationship soft skills 101.

So much of this could just go away if well intentioned people stopped getting in fights over whose dignity violations are worse. But if you really need to keep score: people who have suffered systemic oppression for centuries - have had worse dignity violations than people whose good intentions are called into question.

This is about personal responsibility and stepping aside from your own hurt to be present for others. 

Compassionate rational people meet upset and traumatized people where they are to help them. They don't go on about how this other person's trauma isn't valid or not important or that your intent is more important than their trauma. Whatever happened, is important - to them. And that is what matters to them in the moment. It obviously takes a LOT of self awareness to step back like this. Donna Hicks calls these things dignity violations and says that in order to get past the conflict, we have to not get in pissing matches about whose dignity violations are worse than the other. And the best way to do this is to understand that when someone tells you about their past dignity violations, they aren't demeaning you or violating your dignity. They are trusting you with basically sacred information. They are expecting you to treat that information with compassion and care.

 Everyone has had dignity violations. It is entirely possible to be present to listen to people tell their stories and accept their reality for what it is. So, to answer your question - do you owe her an apology? Technically, no. But should you acknowledge her hurt response is valid? Absolutely yes. Obviously, sexism is a real thing. People really experience it. It's really effing traumatizing when it happens. Her hurt is valid. You don't get to decide for her whether her hurt is valid or not. She's experiencing hurt. That is all you need to know. Acknowledge that. Feel compassion for her. That's all that is required.

On the topic of micro-aggressions

Never assume a micro-aggression is harmless. Some of them are inherently sexist/racist. If the trope is so stereotypical to the lived experience of a marginalized group as a group, then yes, it's racist/sexist regardless of your intent. 

An example would be white people not being able to tell the difference between various black individuals. Or trying to give a compliment by saying - oh, you look just like - some person they know they don't look anything like, but just share skin color maybe with. 

Telling a black person that they are articulate is another example of this. The person saying this may genuinely be giving a compliment, but the person experiencing it as a microaggression KNOWS this history of that phrase and has most likely heard it way more times then you can possibly imagine and specifically in situations that are physically dangerous or that involve - policing. 

Let me give you an example. I had a friend who owned a bar. Every night, he would get pulled over the by same cop outside his house in a nice rich neighborhood. The cop would ask him what he was doing and where he was going and he would answer. And the cop would hear his British accent and apologize and let him go in his house without any further hassle. This happened every .... single ... night. Right in front of his house. Same effing cop. 

What was going on? 1) the cop didn't seem to be able to tell black people apart, and not even by their cars. 2) the fact my friend has a British accent meant - he was 'articulate' and not like the local regular - insert the racist term here. And he was fully aware that that was the case. He was fully aware his accent, was saving him from worse dignity violations and perhaps police violence. This happened to him, every. Single. Night! 

Now - imagine you try to compliment him on his British accent by telling him he is articulate. Your intent to compliment him doesn't matter to him. He already knows that. But it is intersecting with his lived experience that involves active discrimination and oppression that revolves around his speech specifically. 

Your good intent doesn't erase his lived experience. His willingness to tell you - that is a micro-aggression - means he trusts you enough, to listen and learn. If you respond to him telling you - his truth, and you go on about how your intent is all that should matter, you are missing HIS point entirely. He was telling you about his lived reality dealing with overt forms of racism. The proper response to that is to acknowledge his experience and then be grateful he trusted you enough to tell you WHY what should be a compliment is experienced as an aggression.

DARVO - responding accordingly to people who aren't in control of their anger

 A while back I posted this article at my blog on bullying. It's about how bullies, when confronted, will often deny, attack, reverse victim and offender. There is a term for this phenomenon called DARVO. 

Here is the link to the original article. https://bullyvaccineproject.com/darvo-deny-attack-and-reverse-victim-and-offender/

I am posting it here as it strikes me as a useful thing to learn about for people interested in both humanistic management and humanistic leadership and also, people responsible for dealing with and eliminating bullying in the workplace.

Bullies are very predictable. We can use their predictability to help us a) figure out what is really going and and b) we can use this to better control the dynamic. But most of all – we have to stop tolerating bad behavior from people.

If someone is wrongly accused, they should still act responsibly and work with investigators to get to the truth. Ranting and raving about fighting – is evidence of someone who isn’t actually in control of their behavior. And we should recognize that and deal with it accordingly.

Learn how to make bullying and harassment stop using behavioral science based approaches by taking one of my online programs at https://humanistlearning.com/category/bullyingharassment/

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