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All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 214.
We love to see you at all times consorting in amity and concord within the paradise of My good-pleasure, and to inhale from your acts the fragrance of friendliness and unity, of loving-kindness and fellowship. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 315.
The divine religions must be the cause of oneness among men, and the means of unity and love; they must promulgate universal peace, free man from every prejudice, bestow joy and gladness, exercise kindness to all men and do away with every difference and distinction. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 28.
They must endeavour to consort in a friendly spirit with everyone, must follow moderation in their conduct, must have respect and consideration one for another and show loving-kindness and tender regard to all the peoples of the world. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 233.
The new discipline and philosophy of positive psychology, which studies what makes happy and healthy human beings, names the third of its six categories of strengths and virtues Humanity. The positive psychology list of those strengths and virtues defines humanity as “love, kindness and social intelligence.”
All of us know about love and kindness—from childhood, those attributes magnetize all of our relationships and generate happiness in our lives. But how would you define social intelligence?
The earliest psychological definition, from theorist Edward Thorndike in 1920, says social intelligence is “the ability to act wisely in human relations.” That understanding has since expanded to include our capacity to negotiate and manage complex social change, relationships and environments.
Try to think of a person you know who has a high level of social intelligence.
When you think of one, what comes to mind? Usually that person will have great warmth, a loving and kind way of looking at others, the ability to communicate well, and a deep well of human understanding. When the positive psychologists call the category Humanity, they mean that this set of strengths and virtues typically makes others feel known and welcomed and embraced.
When we develop these four interpersonal virtues, which are strongly tied to happiness, they can prove to us that we are not alone in the world. Instead, when we develop the character strength of humanity, it typically gives us the opportunity to live in a community of loving, caring and kind people. A person with a well-developed humanity virtue always attracts others, with warmth and love and kindness. Rather than just looking out for number one—which means you have only one person who cares about what happens to you—these interpersonal virtues assure that we create and then live in a loving community of people. Our level of social intelligence determines the extent of our communities.
So to develop a sense of humanity, that loving, socially intelligent virtue, we have to learn how to express our feelings of kindness and connection to others. That takes a high level of conscious awareness of our thoughts and feelings.
In terms of faith, the virtue of humanity means that our human consciousness is essentially spiritual in nature. We awaken and access our consciousness through our spirit, in other words.
During the past few centuries, science has offered many different theories about our consciousness. The materialistic worldview insists that our consciousness exists only in our mammalian brains; but the spiritual view credits a higher, more transcendent source:
Man is possessed of the emanations of consciousness; he has perception, ideality and is capable of discovering the mysteries of the universe. …How wonderful is the spirit of man! …In brief, abstract intellectual phenomena are human powers. …Man transcends nature, while the mineral, vegetable and animal are helplessly subject to it. This can be done only through the power of the spirit, because the spirit is the reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 240.
Everyone has a sense of their own humanity. We all know that certain behaviors tend to diminish that sense—violence, abuse, hatred—and others, like loving kindness, acceptance and understanding, will build up our social intelligence and our humanity.
When we grow and develop this character virtue, we start to feel empathy toward others. With humanity as a character strength, many of us will begin to face what all of us inevitably realize—that we live in an unjust world. Follow along in the next essay in this series, when we’ll discuss the virtue of justice, and try to understand how we can acquire it in the face of great injustice.