Young humanists are more connected than ever, and live in a world replete with opportunities and ways to find themselves and each other, even if they live in a community lacking in humanists. It’s certainly different than when I was first discovering humanism in my late teens. Today, as I move closer to my thirties, I want to share some tips for young humanists that would have radically transformed my life had I known them a decade ago, when I was first beginning my journey towards humanism.
Tip #1: The Importance Of Picking & Choosing
Before I learned about humanism, I first realized I was an atheist. Not every humanist is an atheist, heck, not even every secular humanist is an atheist, but I was. One aspect of that, especially out of the gate, was that I was often ready to argue with people. I was notorious among my friends for being an active, aggressive proponent of my positions, no matter what they were.
I do not want to discourage people from being like that, but I do want to warn people to think more critically than I did when I was a nascent atheist and a soon-to-be-humanist. My actions alienated people and pushed away people who cared about me, which would cause me grief and also prevent me from being there for my friends when I wanted to be. I have recovered the friendships I once lost, but I advise young humanists to be more thoughtful than I was when I was younger. Picking and choosing when it is worth saying something is an important skill, but it is essential for humanists (of any sort, especially secular ones).
Tip #2: You Are Not Alone
I am a military child. An “Army Brat”, specifically. I went from place to place growing up, and was raised in both Latin America and the Bible Belt. When I first realized that I was a humanist I had already gone through my deconversion journey, but I was in North Carolina and I felt alone because of a rising tide of religious nationalism that was sweeping the part of the country I was living in.
It took me months of doing the digital equivalent of screaming into the void, boldly and openly talking about my secularism before other voices began to scream back. Nonetheless, scream back they did. As hard as it was for a good while, I was not alone. You are not alone either. Finding other people like you is easier than it’s ever been for humanists, thanks to the existence and popularity of groups like the American Humanist Association, as well as vital work done by various humanistic organizations across the planet! All it takes to find other humanists nowadays is a quick and easy google search.
Tip #3: Humanistic Values Are Widespread
The values that many humanists espouse are often more widespread than one may realize. While it’s true that we may have different reasons for believing in the value of church-state-separation than religious people do, our commonalities matter and are worth thorough examination.
Recognizing the widespread appeal of humanistic ideas is a powerful step in any humanist’s journey towards developing a healthier sense of self, as it shows that while there are valuable differences between humanists and non-humanists there are also commonalities that matter. And speaking of those commonalities…
Tip #4: Seek Commonalities
This tip directly relates to the recognition that the values of humanists are popular. It’s not enough to recognize that the ideas and values of humanists are popular and wide-spread, it’s important to make active use of that fact when trying to build interfaith relationships of all sorts.
Our positions that are shared with non-humanists are wonderful and serve as a valuable bridge that can help us navigate the divide that may separate us. Many (though not all!) humanists are not theists, and yet we live in a world where non-humanistic theists are more common than humanists, secular or otherwise. We need to find ways to collaborate, and finding commonalities among our positions on pressing, relevant topics is one way of finding common ground with our theistic peers.
Tip #5: Recognize History, Particularly Your Own
Humanism is not new. A somewhat common criticism of positions like atheism and humanism is that they are new players on a game board that has been around since the advent of civilization, but in both cases that is not true. Atheism has a long history that stretches back to India and some schools of Hindu philosophy, while humanism has a history that stretches back to the ancient Greeks and begins to become somewhat recognizable in the 19th century and then takes on its modern usages in the 20th century.
All of this put together means that arguments that humanists–particularly secular humanists and other non-theists–are young, are based on misinformation. That should strongly bolster anyone who seeks to figure out how to overcome the common adage that non-theistic positions are new. The forebearers of our positions, the figures who laid the groundwork for our current views, lived centuries ago. We are not new, despite the insistence of some of our detractors.
Tip #6: Be A Resource
This is not always easy, and it’s often a surprisingly frustrating responsibility, but being a resource is important. Many people who speak out publicly will quickly learn that others are hungry for information about humanism but don’t know where to begin. This is an important responsibility, but the fact of the matter is that people who ask for your help are inspired by you and your willingness to be an outspoken, public-facing figure. That’s amazing!
Being a resource can be challenging and time-consuming. Thankfully you don’t have to go it alone, there are a multitude of organizations that can help, either with providing you with links to existing resources or by being the resources you share with your friends and those who are curious about humanism.
Tip #7: Know Your Worth
Every humanist is a treasure trove of information, experiences, and perspectives. Recognize that even alone in a small town where you might be the only humanist you know, you are still a wonderful and complex collection of perspectives and what you’ve learned from other people and sources. Part of being a humanist means recognizing the inherent worth and humanity we all possess, yourself included.
There is wonder and secrets known to everyone, and there are few acts as humanistic as recognizing the remarkable knowledge you hold. Humanism is different from some theistic faiths because it does not teach that humans are broken, and instead focuses on the idea that humans are amazing and possess inherent worth. Embracing that fully, which can be tough, means embracing a healthy sort of self-love.
Tip #8: Know The Worth Of Others
Conversely, it is just as important to know the worth of those around you. Different people have different values, experiences, and insights which help make the world a better place. Recognizing how the different lives we’ve all lived make the world a more beautiful place is an important part to living a maximally happy life, and also to recognizing how amazing other people can be.
There are few things more spectacularly humanistic than seeing the myriad of ways that different people contribute to society and to their social groups. Few sounds are as beautifully humanistic as the sound of different people sincerely accepting other perspectives and learning from them.
These tips are handy things I’ve learned over the course of my decade as a humanist. As I turn twenty-nine I am delighted to have had a decade full of learning as a humble humanist, and I hope that I have many more to come, not to mention many more chances to share what I’ve learned with humanists both older and younger than me. I am sincerely so happy to have had a chance to either help young humanists learn something new, or to offer more experienced humanists a chance to remember valuable lessons we all learn at some point or another.