Nothing is as important as human beings. Not ideas, not subjects, not institutions, not goals, not lessons, not information, nothing.
This hit me harder than usual in the past week during some fraught threads on social media. I realized that I was drawn to some views more than others not just because of the overall position taken, but because they made me sense, “wow, this person really cares about human beings,” while with others I noted, “wow, there is no way to tell from this comment whether this person cares at all about human beings”—and many comments gave the impression that the writer was actively misanthropic.
It’s not that we should be convinced of wrong things just because the person saying them seems to care about people, and dismiss correct things just because the person saying them seems to be a jerk. It’s that a position based on care for human beings is inherently likely to be more worth pursuing than one that doesn’t.
My work consists basically of helping people (a) be able to do things they couldn’t do before and (b) want to do those things. Especially goal (b) requires trust, and a key element of this trust is listeners’ confidence that I care about human beings in general and them in particular. Asking myself, “Am I saying or teaching this because I really care about human beings, and in particular about these human beings in front of me?”, making sure the answer is Yes, and shaping the what and the how of my speech accordingly, is the bare minimum of my teaching and training.
Whether you are planning a lesson, answering a question, or commenting on social media, I urge you to include in the process the questions “Is what I’m saying or planning rooted in genuine care for human beings?” and “Does what I’m saying show it?”
See also: To Wow and to Woo
PS. A related way I’ve been taught to consider the value of a comment is to ask myself these three questions before making it: (1) Is it true? (2) Is it helpful? (3) Does it build trust?
My question “Do you really care about human beings?” is reminiscent of the variously attributed “They won’t care what you know until they know that you care,” which may or may not be true: I care what my dentist knows regardless of whether I know that they really care about me. I can learn things from a jerk if I want to. But if I want to increase the chances that someone will care about what I am saying, a good starting point is to do what I can to communicate that I care about human beings.