The Humanity Project
“What Can Shared Value Do For Me?”
One way to begin understanding shared value is through an experience common to us all. When you’re most miserable, are you thinking about how to help anyone else – or only how to help yourself? We’ll bet the answer is always that you’re thinking only how to help yourself. This is true for everyone. But at the Humanity Project, we believe that’s our biggest problem at those times: we’re thinking only of ourselves. Our thoughts and feelings get wound up within us, wrapped around doubts about our worth and our abilities. We even may question whether we deserve something better. And if we do deserve it, then what’s wrong with us? What are we doing that’s preventing us from getting what we desire most?
Shared value helps us overcome these thoughts and feelings by connecting us as individuals to other individuals and to humanity itself. “Connecting” in this sense only means that we care. We feel the importance of other people as well as ourselves and really believe that we’re part of a larger team: the human race. This doesn’t in any way diminish a sense of our own value – quite the opposite. We actually increase our feelings of self-worth in the process. Shared value teaches us that the best way to do and be and have what we want is to aim for a higher target than self-interest alone. Instead, our everyday life becomes focused on mutual benefits, all done with a greater good in mind. This takes practice, of course, and some training. We need to gain a new perspective that elevates our thoughts and feelings. But that’s easier than it may sound at first.
Shared value is an original philosophy created by Robert Spencer Knotts, an author and founder of the Humanity Project. It is based on experiences we all can recognize in our own life, just like the experience of feeling self-absorbed when we’re most upset. Shared value is a simple idea, really, but the reasons why it works so well are too lengthy to spell out in this brief introduction. They involve the way shared value helps us handle some characteristics of the mind such as our tendency for self-doubt and the struggle for feelings of individual value. Shared value also taps into the positive effects of believing deeply in something larger than ourselves … these are just a few examples of the kind of thing we’re talking about here. Again, these are psychological realities we can observe in our own lives, which means you can confirm for yourself that all this makes sense. That’s why we say shared value is empirically based – human experience forms the solid foundation for this philosophy. It is a practical and very doable system for living our lives.
To begin making this work, there’s no need to change anything about our life except to feel in our heart something we already know in our head – the value of other human beings and humanity itself. That’s the essential first step. Once we make ourselves more consciously aware of this, the practice of shared value at its most basic level is simply this: We want other individuals with whom we interact during each day to gain somehow as a result of our interaction and we want to gain somehow too. Win-win. You and I both should become “more” in some meaningful way by being together, rather than only focusing on benefits for me alone. No one should leave feeling like “less,” as if the interaction diminished them. That’s our goal every time we deal with anyone else, whether this is with our family, friends, colleagues, employers, or strangers. We do this because it improves our life, their lives and society. That approach to living actually contributes to humanity itself.
That may sound lofty, one of those notions that seems like, “Hey, it’s a nice idea, but it won’t work in the real world.” But that’s not true. Our experience with shared value shows that it does work in daily life, in any situation, no matter how competitive that situation may be. At the Humanity Project, we recognize there is always an overlapping interest between individuals, what we call an “area of shared value.” Individuals just have to want to find it. (Our organization offers Humanity Project members a specific system to apply this idea – that’s among the benefits of joining us.) All of our programs, such as our acclaimed Anti-bullying Through The Arts, also are based on this one concept. It’s what we’re talking about when we say our group solves problems through cooperation and social connection. We don’t believe anything is worth doing unless everyone wins. “Win” in the deeper sense of becoming more as human beings in some way, shape or form. One very simple example from the real world: If I play tennis with a friend, I should try my best to take the match of course – but in a manner that deepens our friendship and somehow encourages both my friend and I to continue improving our abilities. We each come away enriched by our interaction, more fully human.
The legendary scientist Marie Curie said long ago: “You cannot build a better society without improving individuals.” This belief is at the very core of the Humanity Project. And it’s what shared value is all about – helping us to tap into more of our individual potential to improve the human race, one person at a time. We do this by living in a way that permits ourselves and those around us to become more, not less. Shared value. And by doing this because it’s an effective way to contribute to something larger than any of us.
This belief in a higher purpose for our efforts is very important. Whatever our religious or spiritual ideas, we only have to look around to remember that each of us really does belong to something much grander than any single individual. Something we can see for ourselves because it is concrete and real. We belong to humanity, nature’s greatest achievement, a species with unique gifts that allow us to create art and science and philosophy … and to slowly, slowly develop more of the vast potential that is within every human being. It is easy to feel pessimistic when we observe society superficially. Wars, crimes, needless diseases, all this and more can focus our attention back on ourselves only. “I can’t help anyone else but I can get what I want!” That kind of thinking. It’s understandable. But it’s also self-defeating. And the underlying belief that supports this attitude is plain wrong: the idea that humanity doesn’t advance in a moral sense. We do advance. Did you know that only a few hundred years ago in Europe, dinner guests ate with their hands because their hosts couldn’t trust them with utensils? It’s a fact. That’s how different this relatively recent era was from today – table companions might break into an argument and stab each other with dinner knives. Humanity truly is progressing, and in important ways. But it takes a very long time. Like biological evolution, social evolution is a painful struggle. And it requires many individuals who want to contribute whatever they can to move humanity forward another step.
We should never lose sight of the reality that we are part of a profound undertaking. The advance of the human species. That recognition is what our group means when we talk about living for “us,” not just for “me.” This more insightful perspective lifts us individually and helps to provide a stronger motivation for everything we do. I no longer question if I deserve something – I do deserve it because it benefits other individuals and the human race too. Win-win.
Most of us probably understand at some emotional level that we as individuals possess far greater potential than we develop and share with the world. We could be much more, do much more, contribute much more. In that sense, then, the Humanity Project is a kind of call to individual greatness from each of us. We offer the philosophy of shared value as one sensible, psychology based method to help us toward that high aim. If we’re going to ask you to be more as an individual, we feel we should offer some way to do that. Shared value is a practical system to improve society from the grassroots individual level.
In his great song, “Within You Without You,” the Beatles’ George Harrison wrote, “When you’ve seen beyond yourself then you will find peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you see we’re all one.” At the Humanity Project, we believe that. We also think each of us can make this time come sooner. The ideas outlined here can help launch a broader movement aimed squarely at individual growth for social improvement, a coalition of many people who see we are all one – and who live each day for the benefit of “us,” for humanity. We hope you’ll join this grand cause.