I am super humane
Gandhi once said, “All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family.” Studies of those who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust found they shared Gandhi’s deep sense of the “oneness with all humanity.” That oneness transcended their sense of oneness with members of one’s nationality, race, or religion.
For reasons my self-examination does not reveal, I have agreed with Gandhi’s sentiment, both intellectually and emotionally, since late childhood. Reared in luxury, I am certainly not a Gandhi, and can only guess whether I would have had the courage of the rescuers.
Still, I think my life has shown this “oneness with all humanity.” At age 14, my parents sent me to a military school, where I quickly declared myself a conscientious objector. I somehow knew it morally wrong to let your nation decide for you if and when it is right to kill fellow human beings. I was hazed for that unpopular view, but also gained the respect of more thoughtful faculty and students. Although living in the South, I was a firm supporter of desegregation in the 50s and a frequent civil rights marcher and anti-war activist in the 60s. In all of these, my sense of our common humanity anchored my decisions and actions.
Today my causes are humanitarian and human rights. I have long supported Amnesty International, and give lots of money to Oxfam, Human Rights Watch and similar organisations. These organisations are the main recipients in my will. Also, I now co-chair the Education Committee for Human Rights Coalition of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
As a professor, I developed a course on human rights, which I still teach in retirement, and am now writing a textbook on human rights. My research has focused on understanding racism and war, and their opposite, “identification with all humanity,” which I wrote a questionnaire to measure. Two questions read, “How often do you use the word ‘we’ to refer to people all over the world?” and “When they are in need, how much do you want to help people all over the world?” If asked these questions, my answers would be “very often” to the first and “very much” to the second, the highest response options.
Sam McFarland is Professor Emeritus at Western Kentucky University, where he still teaches and writes on human rights. He has served as president of the International Society of Political Psychology.
In 2012, Professor McFarland and his colleagues devised a scale for measuring people’s identification with all of humanity – a development we covered here on the Digest blog. Among their findings, high scorers on the scale tended to value Afghan and American lives more equally, and tended to know more about humanitarian issues.
Also in this month’s Psychologist, Tom Farsides investigates super-altruism – whether there is such a thing, and its potential costs.
Tomorrow we hear from a researcher studying “super-tasters”.