Humanity is both a value to uphold and a skill to cultivate.

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issue 06 / Elena Semenehuk

What is humanity? What does it truly mean to be human? Since February 2022, these questions have persistently occupied my thoughts and psyche. The events of incredible and unimaginable brutality that have mercilessly occurred over the past two years have been tearing apart the fabric of my understanding of who I believed I was in this world.

For an ICF coach, humanity is not merely a value. According to ICF standards, along with collaboration, professionalism, and equity, it stands as a cornerstone, transcending mere words to embody our essence.

Observing today’s global events, one cannot help but sense a pervasive undercurrent of inhumanity. This unsettling trend evokes another unsettling term: dehumanisation, with its profoundly disturbing ramifications. While humanity should be instinctive and inherent, it often feels elusive, akin to a precious metal waiting to be unearthed. Despite its fundamental importance, genuine displays of humanity seem scarce, especially when scanning the headlines.

Conversely, professionalism offers a more tangible trajectory. With clear benchmarks like MCCs, PhDs, and MBAs, one can easily quantify professional attainment. The exhilaration of such accomplishments can feel euphoric. Yet, amidst these accolades, humanity’s subtler virtues risk fading into the background, often overlooked, and undervalued.

In our relentless pursuit of external validations, we sometimes neglect the essence of our being. Consider Captain America: his heroic stature derives not solely from his armour or shield but predominantly from his narrative and, unequivocally, his unwavering humanity.

I wholeheartedly subscribe to the “live and learn” philosophy. While professional standards undeniably hold value, I believe that genuine progress toward a more compassionate society necessitates cultivating intrinsic qualities like humanity. Despite the monumental achievements of our civilization, I remain convinced that our journey toward a more humane world must begin by looking inward.

As a coach, my journey to understand humanity commenced with reflecting upon the ICF pledge. Humanity entails a commitment to being kind, compassionate, and respectful towards others. While Google’s search results expanded on this definition, adding dimensions like individuality, autonomy, uniqueness, dignity, and human rights, the fundamental essence remained consistent: recognizing the intrinsic value of each individual and nurturing genuine connection.

During the initial months of the war, my world crumbled, and unbearable pain consumed my soul. I felt on the verge of losing faith in humanity, coaching, and everything that had been my pillar of strength. However, I reconsidered my perspective. Instead of succumbing to despair, I chose to embody the change I wished to see, tapping into a deeper potential within myself. Despite the anguish, I committed to serving more people and creating new realities wherever my influence could reach.

Before the war, my mission was to help individuals lead more conscious lives through coaching. My vision was of myself sharing the light of a candle, hoping that others would spread it throughout the world. Yet, in the aftermath of the war, I recognized that a single candle’s light was insufficient. I aspired to kindle a massive bonfire, fueled by the essence of humanity.

This introspective journey led me to a pivotal question: Why not strive to cultivate humanity as a tangible skill? Yet, this idea presented its challenges. How do we measure our progression in humanity? What indicators can reveal our level of humane development?

Allow me to share my personal journey of consciously integrating humanity into my life.

Let’s start with kindness. Maya Angelou astutely observed, “It takes courage to be kind.” Guided by this wisdom, I have consistently made deliberate efforts to extend kindness to family, friends, colleagues, and strangers.

To provide context, while I was not inherently unkind, being born in the Soviet Union—a regime often devoid of such virtues—shaped my initial perceptions. The prevailing narrative was rife with hypocrisy and layers of deceit, obscuring a grim reality: a pervasive absence of humanity within the totalitarian system.

I came to understand that authentic kindness transcends occasional gestures or specific circumstances. It demands continuous effort and intentionality, irrespective of external influences. Prioritising kindness in my interactions led to a transformative shift. I recognized that kindness isn’t merely a fleeting gesture; it’s a foundational aspect of our humanity.

Next, let’s delve into being humane. As the saying goes, “Life is a long journey between being a human being and being humane.” From an early age, I possessed a profound capacity for compassion and love, extending not just to humans but also to animals and other living beings. However, the environment of distrust and minimal respect for human life and dignity during my formative years suppressed these qualities. Only after immersing myself in various cultures and living in different countries did I embrace my genuine loving and compassionate self without reservations. Remarkably, this cross-cultural immersion aligned seamlessly with the demands of my profession, enriching my coaching journey.

Interacting authentically with humans, recognizing them for their essence, is challenging. My previous perceptions were largely influenced by status, education, achievements, and social standing. Embracing diverse ways of life has fostered openness and curiosity, expanding my perspective. At times, I witness my old stereotypes and beliefs disintegrating, akin to melting ice. This conscious evolution allows me to perceive the world and its inhabitants more genuinely, enhancing my presence in coaching and life.

Humanity is a vast topic, challenging to encapsulate in a single article. I recognize that a book might better encompass the breadth of my thoughts and insights. However, my ultimate message remains clear: I genuinely believe and hope that by confronting uncomfortable questions, embracing our authentic human nature, and striving for authenticity, love, respect, and courage, we can construct better societies and a brighter future for ourselves and our children.

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