For many, this has been a gut-wrenching week. People are struggling with how to make sense of global events. Not just the American elections (though this is a huge sea change), but also escalating, senseless violence across the planet, threats to free speech, the spread of fake news, a deepening divide between classes, and a creeping sense of dread as events begin to seem out of our control.
There’s a lot for people to digest. The world can seem a cruel and barbaric place. Philanthropy – love of humankind — can seem elusive.
Yet it’s right here. In each of us.
As my friend Tara Sophia Mohr wrote yesterday:
“… remember that every cell in your body knows how to love and weave good deeds, to meet injustice with acts of service and everyday rebellion, right there with the people in front of you. Let’s stay connected to love and to each other.”
This is a time when we truly must stay connected. Through making a choice — to pay attention to, rather than ignore. Through listening. Through empathy. Through putting ourselves in each other’s shoes.
This week, celebrate tolerance.
Yesterday, and all this week, we celebrate the United Nation’s International Day for Tolerance. While it may seem we haven’t much to celebrate right now, the reverse is true.
We have each other. Because for every bigot, xenophobe or suicidal terrorist who rises up, 100 more will rise up against them. And soon it will be 1,000 more. Then 10,000 more.
Humanity has the will to survive — through caring.
Not just the will to survive but, in fact, the need. For throughout history the civilizations that have survived have been those which banded together to care for their brethren.
Sure, we’ve all heard about “survival of the fittest.” But did you know that was not Darwin’s idea? He never meant to imply that civilization would survive by the strongest killing off the weakest. Though the concept is attributed to him, it really comes from the philosopher Herbert Spencer. And it is widely misunderstood.
In one-to-one battles the fittest may survive. But in the end, it’s not about individuals. It’s about groups. Tribes. Communities. Darwin actually posited “survival of the most empathic.”
Empathy, per Anita Nowak of McGill University, is the only human emotion that expresses equality between humans. She notes:
Society needs to undergo an empathic revolution if we are to survive as a species… we must engage with empathy; not as spectators, but as fully involved participants. [The state of society today makes] the moral imperative to act explicit. We are facing a set of social and environmental crises that are unprecedented… we are beset by wicked problems.”
The nonprofit sector is also called the “civil society.” And we have an important role to play in times like these. We must remind each other what survival really is about.
Civilizations that survive are the most empathic, cooperative and compassionate.
This week, commit to cooperation and standing together.
Even in the wild it’s not every animal for itself. Cooperation turns out to be the most successful survival strategy. Complex cells evolved from cooperating simple cells. Multicellular organisms are made up of cooperating complex cells. Superorganisms such as bee or ant colonies consist of cooperating individuals, in a condition bioligists call eusociality.
Individual selection tends to favor selfish behavior. In the eusocial group however, members perform altruistic acts, sometimes against their own personal interests, to benefit their group.
When cooperation breaks down, the results can be disastrous.
For example, when cells in our bodies turn rogue the result is cancer. A single cell can break free from the pack and create something monstrous. In my teen-age daughter’s lingo, letting the demons loose makes the world totally cray-cray.
This is what makes the civil sector so important.
Nonprofit staff, volunteers and donors make a critically important choice. To act altruistically. To stand united against cruelty, intolerance and injustice.
As individuals, families and communities we choose to act with compassion and honor. To stand up to horror, hatred, inhumanity and senseless destruction.
This message from the U.N. Secretary General is timely:
“Let us not be provoked or play into the hands of those who thrive on hatred and instill fear in our societies. Today’s global challenges should compel us to reject the failed mindset of “us” versus “them”. Let us see the world and all its possibilities through the prism of “we the peoples”.
There can be no time like the present to begin to say “No More.”
This week, commit to taking a step towards repairing the world.
Here are 10 ways to begin:
- If you work in the social benefit sector, keep doing what you do!
- If you are a philanthropist (a donor or volunteer), keep doing what you do!
- Either way, dedicate yourself to doing more, with greater passion, deeper commitment and renewed zeal. Do it with the understanding that compassion makes a difference. Tolerance is powerful. Support organizations that walk this talk.
- Learn about emotional intelligence and how you can practice this essential skill. Use it to broaden your circle and get to know and understand people who are different from you. Help them to better understand and appreciate you as well.
- Talk with your loved ones this Thanksgiving about how you can build greater peace and understanding in your own community.
- Begin an ‘accompany my neighbor’ movement in your community to escort those who are afraid to be out alone.
- Make new friends by listening closely to those who disagree with your beliefs, and trying to understand where those beliefs come from. Avoid knee-jerk condescension and hostility. Don’t be afraid to push back with truth, however; especially to stand up on behalf of rights you hold dear. A bit of honest conflict among friends is okay.
- Call or write your Congressperson and express your opposition to curtailing basic human rights, access to healthcare, mass deportation or appointment of people who are unqualified to hold critical government positions that assure a functioning democracy.
- Get involved locally to support measures that can benefit from your passion to ensure a minimum wage, clean up the environment, pass safer gun laws, help the homeless, and protect the vulnerable.
- Subscribe to a newspaper to support freedom of the press and fact checking to avoid the dangerous spread of misinformation.
Whatever you do, don’t lose hope. Don’t isolate yourself. Join with your neighbors. Your co-workers. Your family and loved ones. Reflect. Discuss. Reflect some more. Figure out something you can do to make the world a better place – one person, one deed at a time.
It’s a good place to start.
Together, we shall overcome.
We are civil society — the protectors of the social norms vital for keeping our diverse society together.
Please share your thoughts and reflections in the comments below. May peace and strength be with you, and with us all.
Photo by Claire Axelrad as part of a series: The Art of Philanthropy – ‘Love of Humankind’ – as Seen Through the Prism of the World’s Art Museums