The fourth of the Humanist values from the 2003 Humanist Manifesto III has always seemed a little soft for me. It says, “Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.” One supposes they meant it to be that way, since it can mean so many things to so many different people. Personally, I would be happier of it mentioned some concrete possibilities.
The sentiment is clear, in any event. There is reason to believe that ethical human beings do lead happier lives when they help other human beings do the same, which is the essence of value four. After a bit of looking around, I found the following on the American Humanist Association site:
Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.
There’s a bit more detail to that, something to take hold of. We need to integrate ourselves with society, i.e., other human beings, and do our best to make life in that society and for those people the best that it can be. We need to absorb the culture of our society, the societies around us, and those societies that came before us.
I fear that I am beginning to interpret here, so be aware that the rest of this is how I see it; your mileage may vary. It is only by understanding, to the best of our abilities, past and present societies and their culture that we can develop a mature societal view of how human beings can lead the most rewarding lives. Once we begin to understand that, we can begin to see ways that we can help those less fortunate than ourselves.
We must pay attention to the world around us, that larger macro world that includes all human beings and that micro world that contains the smaller world immediately adjacent to ourselves, no matter where it is geographically. When we find an issue or condition that is hurting humanity, we should work to improve that issue. When we find values that help humanity, we should do our best to spread them from our micro world into the macro world.
Participating in this way will result in positive feelings of personal value for each of us, knowing that we have done well for our society and its members. We will feel, as well, as if our life has had meaning much greater than anything material we have attained. And we will feel, as we enter our final moments, that we will be remembered by those that we have helped, and that our legacy will remain for a longer time than we have.