What Makes Someone a Humanitarian?


Nicole & Hiren:
For most of my life, I've wanted to be a "humanitarian" but I never really defined it for myself. Certainly someone like Greg Mortenson from the Central Asia Institute would qualify for that title. Angelina Jolie, too. Bono, yes, no problem. Mohammad Yunus, of course. But how do people who live in middle America, who have families and jobs and not a whole lot of excess income become humanitarians?

Does lending on Kiva make someone a humanitarian? It doesn't seem to me like money should be the sole factor. There should be some action involved. Besides, if it's money, at what point does it reach the level of being a humanitarian? Is it at $25 or $250 or $2500?

What if I click on a host of "click to donate" sites every day? Does that make me a humanitarian? Hmmm...that doesn't seem like enough action.

What if I volunteer to help immigrants learn English so they can better themselves and their families? That just seems like it would make me a "volunteer," not a humanitarian.

Here's the Merriam-Webster definition of a humanitarian:


A person promoting human welfare and social reform

But what is YOUR definition? What, in your mind, makes someone a humanitarian? I'd especially love to hear if you think regular people who can't travel the world or donate large sums of money can, indeed, become humanitarians.


Dottie b:
Interesting question, Nicole. Just a few preliminary random thoughts. . . .

I don't think humanitarian is a title that one obtains by doing a certain number of particular things. Nor, if a humanitarian is one who "promotes human welfare and social reform," would it have to be a full-time job. (Though I guess a full-time job doing that would make one a humanitarian by profession! Hmmmm.)

I don't think being a volunteer disqualified one from being a humanitarian, if one is acting to promote human welfare and social reform.

What could our middle American do to be a humanitarian? Possibilities include

    - volunteering, either on a regular basis (soup kitchen, child advocate, thrift shop, meals on wheels, court watch, writing letters for Amnesty International, etc.) or in special circumstances, like a flood or earthquake one could reach.

    - Lobbying (writing to Congressman, letter to editor, etc. )for social issues and human rights

    - Making a financial contribution, or, even better, collecting money for a worthy cause by participating in walkathons, bake sales, etc.

Dottie B

Dottie b:
In a similar vein, I'd like to be a "philanthropist." I'm not a multi-millionaire, however!

I am leaving most of whatever estate I may have to charity, but recently I decided to enjoy myself by giving a bit more now, which is also a good way to learn more about an organization. (I recently gave gifts of appreciated stock to two organizations in amounts several times larger than I'd made to any organizaton in the past. One thanked me profusely and offered to have their executive director meet with me. The other didn't answer my email. I won't judge an organization solely on that, but there's something to be said for knowing an organization is delighted. Look how interested we were in Florence's response!)

Anyway, I'm not going to go around calling myself a philanthropist, except perhaps in jest to friends, but giving (and all the research that goes with it) has become an important part of my life. It's nice to be in a forum like this one can talk about it with others who are also trying to make difference.

Dottie B, (very) "junior philanthropist"

Per the Wikipedia:

An informal ideology
Humanitarianism is an informal ideology of practice, whereby people practice humane treatment and provide assistance to others; it is the doctrine that people's duty is to promote human welfare.[1]

Humanitarianism is based on a view that all human beings deserve respect and dignity and should be treated as such. Therefore, humanitarians work towards advancing the well-being of humanity as a whole. It is the antithesis of the "us vs. them" mentality that characterizes tribalism and ethnic nationalism. Humanitarians abhor slavery, violation of basic and human rights, and discrimination on the basis of features such as colour of skin, religion, ancestry, place of birth, etc. Humanitarianism drives people to save lives, alleviate suffering and promote human dignity in the middle of man-made or natural disasters. Humanitarianism is embraced by movements and people across the political spectrum. The informal ideology can be summed up by a quote from Albert Schweitzer: "Humanitarianism consists in never sacrificing a human being to a purpose."

A universal doctrine
Jean Pictet, in his commentary on The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross points out the universal characteristics of humanitarianism:

The wellspring of the principle of humanity is in the essence of social morality which can be summed up in a single sentence, Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. This fundamental precept can be found, in almost identical form, in all the great religions, Brahminism, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism. It is also the golden rule of the positivists, who do not commit themselves to any religion but only to the data of experience, in the name of reason alone.[2].


I think it is wrong to place a dollar amount when categorizing who might be a humanitarian.....we all do what we can with what resources we have...be it our checkbook or our time...the fact that we "do" something I believe is the most important aspect...I know so many who do nothing......


Personally...  I have to say...   and this is said with a terrible cold or sinus infection...

All KSC Members are Humanitarians!   :D  and I bestow that title on us!

(I blame this pathetic attempt at humor on the cold medicine! but there is a little truth in it)

Nicole, awesome question you pose to us.  A very critical thinking type of dialogue youve presented for us and I love the question, so much so that Im probably responding well too soon before giving it enough deserving thought.  Im reminded of the parable about the poor man/woman who gave all he/she had, and though it was monetarily less than the wealthier man/woman who only had to give a small amount to exceed the contribution of this poor individual, in truth this impoverished person was rich in spirit and in reality was more the "humanitarian" --not because of what was given, but how much of the person was given. 

Thats just a little twist on how to perceive the question, though I know its not exactly what youre looking for.  The world wouldnt literally consider this person a humanitarian, but its more a personally empowering perspective.

I think what we came together to do for Florence, though not necessarily making us full fledged humanitarians since it was a short term and temporary effort, made us such for that period of time in a small way, at least thats what Florence and some of her students might believe.  I guess maybe the people one helps can better answer the question than we ourselves.

I know the parable you are talking about Steve....the woman gave out of what she needed to live whereas the others giving at the temple gave from their excess money....and the amount they gave was indeed larger than the woman's contribution....the question being posed was who was more generous....and this parable always makes me think of someone (a non-Kivan) who gives from his excess and then puffs out his chest about his gift...with a "look at me and what I have done" attitude....is his gift appreciated...of course...it is his attitude that is offensive.

And I do believe that along with all the KSC members...all Kivans are truly humanitarians in their own right....and it is because of us coming together for Mama Mark, for Florence, for Kenyan relief, or the next story that tugs at our heartstrings.  Each event is a small pebble making a ripple in a large pond but we keep at it and that is what is important.



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