What is an Everyday Humanitarian?

by Bonnie Nelson, Advance Humanity Partner

Last month we told you the Advance Humanity Community would focus on the topic of Everyday Humanitarians during the month of February. As curator of this month, I need to start with the admission that I think many people are Everyday Humanitarians who don’t recognize it and most people can easily become Everyday Humanitarians. As you start to develop your own definition during this month, I ask you to think about the following five characteristics that I see in Everyday Humanitarians that I know.

Kindness. Being kind offers us all the opportunity to make the life of someone else a little better that day. And you never know who’s watching, whether it is your small child or a stranger.  I would argue that being kind is the number one trait of an Everyday Humanitarian, which is good since it’s also the easiest. Tip more often, say hi to a stranger, hold open the door. Yeah, it’s not the same as eradicating a disease and I don’t pretend to claim it’s the same. But science even suggests that when you extend kindness to someone, you can actually improve your own well-being.  That seems like a worthwhile method of humanitarianism to me.

Simplicity.  A simpler life does not mean selling all of your belongings and riding a bike all of the time. A simpler life might mean learning to say No. It can mean going to bed earlier and watching less TV (or in my opinion, at least watch less commercials). A simpler life may not seem like it has a global impact, but a simple life allows a person to focus on what’s important. For me, watching less TV means that I read more books. Going on evening walks means I sleep well and I’m rejuvenated when I wake the next morning. At the point where a person’s basic needs are met, they can open their minds to creativity and helping others.

Generosity. Being generous does not have to be a reciprocal action, but it often is. It is incredibly difficult to give something positive to another individual and not feel good. This can take diverse forms such as money, time, or expertise. Don’t think that giving means writing a check to charity that you can’t afford or spending all of your free time volunteering. Start small by giving to those around you in simple, tangible ways. Give a smile to that person at work who drives you nuts. Once you start from there, you will see your desire to give and your need to be generous increase and benefit all of those around you.

Awesomeness. In the last two years, I have been blown away to discover the crazy and awesome ideas that people are contributing to the betterment of the world. People aren’t waiting for non-profits or governments to take care of individuals. The Awesome Foundation is empowering people to give at a local level. TEDx events allow a format for citizens to come together and share ideas. What this tells me is that there is no limit to the amount of awesomeness we can achieve and it’s never been easier for a great idea in one place to reach millions of individuals. If you’ve got an idea, don’t be afraid to spread Awesome to the rest of us.

Gratitude. It is not an uncommon theme for people who have worked abroad to share stories not about what people wish they had, but how people focus on what they do have. An Everyday Humanitarian is not one that lives under a cloud of guilt for the things they have, nor one who boasts about all the luxuries in their life. But simple acts of gratitude, especially when expressed aloud to others, can have a huge impact. If you’re not sure where to get started, check out this fun TEDx talk by  Neil Pasricha, author of 1000 Awesome Things.