How to Be a Humanitarian, Part 1

4 September 2020

Did you know there is an ethical code that humanitarians follow?1 Humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence are shared values that nonprofit aid organizations around the world embrace. As individuals within our communities, we can also keep these values as we look at ways to help one another. 


Step one to being a humanitarian—humanity—means that we work to see each individual as a child of God. Every person deserves a chance to have a happy and productive life. Whether globally or in our own backyard, we recognize a person’s humanity when we:

  • See individuals as God sees them.
  • Seek to understand their experiences.
  • Respect their agency as they define their own future.

How do we see an individual as God does?

God invites all to come to Him and partake in His goodness—“black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God.”2 Sometimes those in need may look different from us or even act in ways that we find uncomfortable. Christ spent His mortal life with people who looked, acted, smelled, and sounded different. How do we look past the obvious differences and see the divine in each person and the common humanity that is much stronger than our differences?

  • If the individual were a family member or a loved one, how would your view of this person change?
  • How can you show people that they are not invisible to you? What happens when you look them in the eye, call them by their name, offer a handshake, ask them a question, or ask them a follow-up question?

It is the greatest comfort to feel that God knows each of us. He knows why you are driving aggressively, or frustrated with your family, or too tired to keep a promise. We can try to offer that same generosity to each other, even when we are not at our best.

Why seek to understand someone’s experience?

When something bad happens to us, we may blame the situation or bad luck. When something bad happens to someone else, we’re much more likely to blame his or her character or bad decision-making. In psychology and ethics, this is known as the “fundamental attribution error.”

We show love to our neighbors when we take the time to learn about their circumstances and the barriers they face, which may be unfamiliar to us. Here are some ways to hear and learn from those around use:

  • Listen first. Allow the person to ask for your opinion.
  • Question your assumptions. If something that the person says feels uncomfortable to you, ask yourself why you feel that way and whether what he or she says might be true.

We show God we love Him when we are still and hear His promptings. We show our neighbors we love them when we are quiet and hear their stories.

We are each agents to act

When we honor people’s right to create a happy future for themselves, we will look for ways to help them in ways they ask for. Each person should be able to access opportunities to learn, earn a living, and feel he or she belongs in the community. But people accomplish those things differently. There is no single right way to belong.

God gives all His children agency and the power to act. Even in the most difficult circumstances, we want to protect each person’s ability to define his or her future. When we reach out to offer our help, we can respect others’ agency by:

  • Not assuming anything.
  • Asking what they have tried and what they want to try.
  • Asking what they want in their future and how they might like us to help.

The world is a kinder place than it sometimes seems; the desire to love and care for one another lives within us. The ethical code of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence is simply another way of treating each other with the respect of family—our most inner circle. Strengthening our shared humanity, we can:

  • See individuals as God sees them.
  • Seek to understand others’ experiences.
  • Respect others’ agency as they define their own future.