do-gooders

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End of the year question for you, humanosphere | 

Happy Holidays.

Humanosphere is taking the week off since so is much of the rest of the humanosphere. I feel compelled to close out 2011 with a reminder that humanosphere is, in fact, a real word — coined to describe that part of the planet ‘inhabited or influenced by people.’

Yeah, kinda vague.

That’s why I have a key question for you, you humanospherians. But first, the northern lights ….

Flickr, Beverly & Pack

The northern lights

End of year thought: This is a news blog, or an online news website if you don’t like the word ‘blog,’ aimed at covering what seems to me to be a critical moment for humanity. It’s hard to summarize, but I believe our amazing, wonderful, frighteningly innovative and sometimes highly destructive species is at an unprecedented crossroads.

There’s no question anymore that we have evolved the capability to seriously soil our own nest — what with our nuclear weaponry, our climate-altering industrial practices and a level of hubris that (as seen from outer space … yes, I know ET) threatens to be our undoing.

Planet Earth likely will muster on, as it always has. But the humanosphere may be at risk, of a seriously deteriorating quality of life if not worse.

As someone of Scandinavian extraction, I’m happy to accept such a gloomy prognosis — especially as it fits in with my Norwegian-Lutheran holiday traditions of guilt, anxiety and staring off into cold space.

Yet there is just as much evidence to contradict this fatalistic view. A few observations:

  • In many ways, the world is actually a better place than it was even just 10 years ago with lower rates of extreme poverty, lower maternal and child mortality, more people on anti-HIV drugs and much less malaria in poor countries thanks to major initiatives funded by rich nations.
  • Most world leaders, even top military commanders, say that the best way to achieve global peace and stability is not through warfare but by reducing poverty, fighting inequity and promoting development. (I can’t say we are yet practicing what we preach, but recognizing you have a problem — whether it’s excessive drinking or killing people — is the first step.)
  • Something unusual is happening with young people. They are incredibly aware of global issues and they are leading the way on many fronts in the battle against poverty and injustice.
  • The business community has recognized it has a responsibility and a role to play in making the world a better place. Only the dinosaurs of business now say their only responsibility is to the bottom line. The idea of corporate social responsibility, however imperfectly practiced, no longer sounds so incongruous — or like dressing up a pig in a tuxedo.
  • Some of our past damage is fixable. A local creek I couldn’t have gone swimming in as a boy (unless I wanted to experiment with chemicals and genetic self-mutation) is now brimming with fish.

End of year question: So what do we call this trend, this new phase for humanity?

As a journalist attempting to cover this phenomenon, I often find myself at a loss for adequate words to describe what is happening and who is making it happen.

This isn’t really about charity, or just philanthropy. We seem to have entered a new phase of human development in which many, if not yet most, recognize global inequity and injustice threatens all of us. We have a much stronger sense of connection to each other today, I think.

But the language used to describe this new phase for humanity is horribly squishy and soft. Advocates often sound like one of those late-night TV pitches asking you to sponsor a starving child. And calling the people who work at making the world better ‘humanitarians‘ sounds a bit floofy. I don’t mind the simple clarity of ‘do-gooders,’ but many see that as slightly pejorative if not smart-ass.

So what do we call you people? What do we call this new phase in the evolution of the humanosphere?

I await your thoughts. Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and here’s hoping for a Joyful New Year.

Tom

Are Do-Gooder Organizations Self-Loathing? | 

Psychologists at Washington State University have determined that nobody likes do-gooders in the workplace.

Selfless people, says WSU social psychologist Craig Parks, are viewed as “deviant rule breakers” — meaning they break the “rule” (is this Parks’ rule or some presumed rule of nature?) that we are supposed to operate according to self-interest. You can read about Parks’ research here.

This must therefore be magnified tenfold for those working at all these do-gooder organizations supposedly dedicated to saving lives, reducing suffering, empowering women and all those annoying kinds of things.