Humanity: A Plug for a Great Book

Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century by Jonathan Glover

An old Peace Corps colleague sent me an excerpt from this book. I found it very relevant to the times we are living though. I haven’t read the whole book yet, but I read enough to recommend it highly. The excerpt is as follows:

“The fact is, moral behavior doesn’t start with having the right beliefs. Moral behavior starts with an act — the act of seeing the full humanity of other people. Moral behavior is not about having the right intellectual concepts in your head. It’s about seeing other people with the eyes of the heart, seeing them in their full experience, suffering with their full suffering, walking with them on their path. Morality starts with the quality of attention we cast upon another.

If you look at people with a detached, emotionless gaze, it doesn’t really matter what your beliefs are, because you have morally disengaged. You have perceived a person not as a full human but as a thing, as a vague entity toward which the rules of morality do not apply.

Character is not measured by a person’s beliefs but by the ability to see the full humanity of others. It is not automatic. It’s a skill acquired slowly. It’s about being able to focus on what’s going on in your own mind and simultaneously focus on what’s going on in another mind. It’s about learning how to minutely observe, absorb and resonate with other people’s emotions.

It comes about through years of shared experiences, decades of other-centered attention, engagement with the kind of literature that educates you in what can go on in other people’s heads. It’s spiritual training to get out of your own egotistic self-referential thinking and into the habit of asking what’s this moment like for that other person.”

This is an attitude that, if we take it to heart, can really change our lives and maybe even our world.

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