What is the difference between humanism and philanthropy?

A short article on how humanism and philanthropy complement each other

Humanism became important with Renaissance in 15th century turning away from medieval scholasticism that lasted 1000 years. Since then humanism has become the central focus of modern western civilization in 18th century Enlightenment period. However, philanthropy is quite a new term for many of us. Are they the same or similar? What is the difference, if there is any?

Both are very different from each other even though they focus on well-being of humans. Let me tell why? Humanism is an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters unlike the medieval scholasticism. It stresses the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasizes common human needs, and seeks solely rational ways of solving human problems. That is, this approach puts people in the very center of life suggesting everything in civilization serves for the best of people.

Nevertheless, philanthropy which is the combination of Greek words “philos” (meaning love) and “antropos” (meaning human) is the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.

George Peabody (1795 — 1869) was the father of modern philanthropy. According to him, philanthropy is more than just a charitable donation but an effort an individual or organization undertakes based on an altruistic desire to improve human welfare. This care is the outcome of a consciousness change from ME to WE.

Everything in modern civilization is for people. If you take out people from life, only the material remains. Feudalism and aristocracy were hardly thrown long after Renaissance enlightenment. Many fights had to be won with so many sacrifices from various thought leaders for modern civilization to place people and human life to the center.

Humanism without philanthropy will be incomplete and will be selfish as it will ony serve for the welfare of the individual. We can only be as healthy as the communities we live in and communities in 21st century are inter-dependent. The butterfly-effect has never been that much important in life on Earth than now. If you do not believe, look at how regional wars and conflicts are impacting others countries in the world even if they live in peace. Look at how pollution in one part of the world in adding up to global heating and threating our ony cosmic home, mother Earth. How is possible for a rich one to enjoy eating caviar when another is starving in another part of the world.

Whatever we neglect to see and understand has a potential to come back and hit us like a bumerang, especially in an unexpected time and in an unexpected way.

Therefore, while humanism opens the way to welfare of an individual, that individual welfare has a long term sustainability risk without philanthropy. Nevertheless, while philanthropy alone can help. aid and support others, it will not be fully beneficial without empathy. Philanthropy done with pity, sympaty or due to fear of divine punishment after death, is another selfish and incomplete action even if it will help. So, philanthropy needs humanism to empathize and understand the real needs of others rather than making assumption as to what works best for our under-privileged brothers and sisters in our communities.

The entire universe is a continuous flow of energy which seeks a dynamic equilibrium. No equilibrium will last long or forever under the influence of entropy, so giving back is receiving. And being born in a human body do not make us human. Therefore, it is best to remember our One source and true potential to do better in humanism and to share our material and non-material richnesses, whatever they may be, with others. Only then could humanism and philanthropy complement each other as unveiled in a different way by the ancient Chinese symbol, Yin Yang.





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