The Responsibilities of Being Human

One of the main tenets of Humanism is that we need to be focused on the here and now. Humanists have long argued that there is no heaven and hell or afterlife, and more importantly, given that that’s the case, that we need to spend our lives making the world a better place right now, instead of trying taking action trying to earn merit for our post-death destination. Though both sides come at it from opposite ends of the spectrum, this perspective actually meshes beautifully with our Universalist heritage. The core tenet of Universalism is that God loves everyone, and specifically back in the day when belief in heaven and hell were the norm, that that meant God sent everyone to heaven. So the Universalists came to a very similar conclusion – since we were all going to be saved, the focus can shift from trying to earn a good afterlife, to living a good life now.

Humanism, our theme for this month of March, takes things a step further, of course, and places responsibility for creating the best possible here and now on us human beings. And that’s a pretty awesome responsibility – awesome responsibility, both in the sense of being amazing cool, and in the sense of being amazingly large and serious. Most of have probably seen the quote incorrectly attributed to Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Gandhi’s actual quote was a little bit more subtle and nuanced than that, but we like the quote, as adapted for bumper stickers and memes, because it challenges us to action, and it gives us power and agency. It could also probably be a Humanist slogan, if Humanism were to have a slogan. “Be the change” puts the responsibility directly on each of us to make the world a better place.

There’s little that Unitarian Universalism and Unitarian Universalists as a whole group of people agree on, but that we’re responsible for and focused on the here and now comes about as close as we get to one of our places of agreement. If this is generally true for us, my wondering then, is: how seriously do we take this responsibility? I know that most of us feel responsible for and work for justice in the world on some broader level. For most of us though, active work to heal the broader world is still a comparatively smaller part of our overall lives, at least in terms of time spent. It’s not that it’s not important to us, but still, the money to pay bills has to come from somewhere, so most of us have to or have had to spend a great deal of time working in our lives. And we spend time eating and preparing food, and spending time with our friends and families. And then there’s our hobbies and leisure activities, and let’s not forget sleep.

So I assume that those of who subscribe to this Humanist notion of our lives being focused on, and us being responsible for the present – I assume that we take up that mantle of responsibility in part by doing social justice work to help heal the world. But the rest of the time. All the other things we do. I wonder, do we bring that same sense of responsibility for creating the just, equitable, compassionate, caring world we dream of and value? Specifically, do we take the time in our lives, on a regular basis, to reflect on our choices and behaviors in the world, and see how they are impacting our own happiness as well as others?

I don’t think most human beings often, if ever, make choices that they think are going to be directly harmful to ourselves or to other people. Most of us usually think we are making the best decision possible, given the information we have at hand and what our life experience tells us about how the world works. And yet all the time, we make decisions that are harmful to ourselves and others, decisions that cause hurt and pain and sadness – myself included. I generally do my best to be a good human being – a good minister, a good husband, a good father, a good son, a good brother, a good citizen, a good friend. And yet I also know I fall short sometimes. An unnecessarily harsh or judgmental word or thought spoke aloud here, a brief snap or lose of my temper towards my kids there. Despite my best efforts and frequent successes, the times I fall short still occur with irritating frequency. I try to make amends when I realize that I have done wrong. And, too often – not always, but too often, and I don’t think I’m alone in this – I wait for a corrective, a push back from the outside world, before those amends are offered.

So one of the challenges of Humanism to us, as I see it, is to take responsibility and hold ourselves accountable for our choices, actions and behaviors on a scale both large and small. We know all about the bigger picture social justice work. And, the day-to-day is equally important as well. The deep responsibility for the here and now of humanism calls not just to wait until someone else informs us that we’ve done something that causes harm, but instead, to regularly and proactively take time to reflect on our choices and actions, to seek and solicit feedback from those around us, so that we might continue to learn how to make better choices every day in the world. Perfection is not the goal, but growth and learning and fully taking responsibility for our choices, the good and bad, is. Humanism calls us to a deep sense of responsibility for the world, for ourselves, and for our lives. May we continue to do our best to consciously and intentionally live that responsibility into being.

See you in church!

peace, love, and blessings,