A New Goal for Society

David Brooks’s tells us in his wonderful New York Times Op-Ed piece of March 8, 2011, “The New Humanism” that scientists have made two important discoveries. One is that human beings are not individuals who have relationships, but that we are embedded in relationship as part of our essential nature. The second is that there is no real split within the person between reason and emotion, but that these aspects are actually aspects of a unified whole.

These understandings are no recent discovery. For one, the humanist sage, Mencius, who lived in China 2500 years ago, knew this. Scientists are merely doing the research to back up what has been comprehended for thousands of years.

Brooks hopes that this new understanding will influence our political leaders in the future. But this is no news to policy makers either. 65 years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt planned to give a speech which he never delivered, because he died the night before the event. In that speech, this Democrat saw the unity of science and relationship, and recognized that the greatest peril we faced was a lack of the development of our intrinsic capacity for love. He wrote this speech while we were still engaged in World War II.

Here is an excerpt from his speech:

“. . . the mere conquest of our enemies is not enough.

We must go on to do all in our power to conquer the doubts and the fears, the ignorance and the greed, which made this horror possible.

Today we are faced with the preeminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships—the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together, in the same world, at peace.

Let me assure you that my hand is the steadier for the work that is to be done, that I move more firmly into the task, knowing that you—millions and millions of you—are joined with me in the resolve to make this work endure.

. . . The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”

It is terrific that scientists are focusing on, and coming up with evidence to support, the centrality of relationship and emotion in human experience and success. It is also terrific that relationship theorists like Harville Hendrix have come up with the methods to realize Roosevelt’s vision. Finally, it is also great that Brooks is exposing these discoveries to a wide readership.

Perhaps this will lead more people to stop accepting a negative interpretation of the word humanist.

Maybe it will lead more people to recognize that our founding fathers, who believed that humans have the capacity, with their mixture of passion and mind, to run their own affairs in unity to each other, were, in fact, humanists.

And lastly, we can only hope that we will finally, in an act of sankofa, an Akan work meaning a taking of the past to create the future, bring to realization the insight of the great humanist, Roosevelt. As Brooks tells us, our fate, not only individually, but as a whole, will be determined by the extent to which we realize our human potentials for thinking, feeling, acting, creating, and connecting. In other words, the real solution to our problems requires that we all work on cultivating the “science of human relationships,” otherwise known as, our ability to love.

Dr. Glenn Berger is a psychotherapist, relationship counselor, business and artist’s coach, and young person’s mentor. He sees patients in New York City, in Mt. Kisco, NY, and around the world by Skype.

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