First I’d like to thank everyone who has contacted us with good wishes and to check on the health and wellbeing of our staff and volunteers in the office and elsewhere. Because of our excellent IT team, we have been able to have our staff working from their own homes for some time and we are in good shape to deal with whatever further official measures may be taken. You can continue to call and email us as usual and we will continue to be a voice for rational thinking, kindness, and the interests of the non-religious in these extraordinary times.
Beyond such basic continuity, there is no escaping the effects of the current pandemic and Humanists UK, like the rest of society, is adjusting rapidly to changes in public health advice and to the changes people are making to their behaviour in light of that advice. We have made an important announcement about our events until the end of July and have made important changes to our services, including funerals.
In all this, I remain grateful for the continued support of our members. Members who want to do more to help us through this time can make sure they renew their memberships this year and consider increasing their monthly subscription via their online dashboard. I’d also like to encourage anyone who shares our values and aspirations but who hasn’t yet joined to please do so. This is a challenging time and any donations made towards our work will be extremely welcome.
Given our focus on promoting human welfare and happiness in the one life we have, we feel a special responsibility to play our part in responding to the crisis. Our continuing pastoral care and ceremonies work is a crucial part of that. In addition, alongside our usual public advocacy work, we’ll be doing more than ever to combat the spread of dangerous and unhelpful fake health news online. And in our wider public communications, we’ll be drawing on a rich legacy of humanist writing and thinking on overcoming adversity, developing personal resilience, and acting for others, as well as publishing advice which reflects on how to manage periods of strain and difficulty. Our President, Professor Alice Roberts, will be spear-heading efforts to ensure humanist content – including stimulating ideas and content from our past events – is never far from your screens during a time of quarantine.
With the number of infections and casualties poised to dramatically accelerate, this is not the time for despair. Instead, it is time for rational hope and optimism. Both our humanist community and our global human family will see this through. In light of modern science, humanity is no longer blind in the face of any pandemic. Scientists on every continent are working hard and sharing their findings with one another in an unprecedented display of international cooperation.
In the present, however, I know this is a testing experience for all of us. Many of our members work in public services like healthcare, education, and social care, and they are especially affected, as are those who are self-employed, or whose work requires daily interaction with the public. Those of us with families and friends in any of these jobs know the strains that this situation is putting on them.
But even as we physically distance from one another, we know that socially – even though remotely – we must look to move closer to each other and strengthen, not loosen, the bonds of friendship and community. Now more than ever it is important to think and act as a humanist: look out for one other, value kindness and practice it, exercise good judgement and take due account of expert scientific and medical advice. (Please, steer clear of conspiracy theories.) We all have responsibilities to one another and in a crisis such as this it is all the more important that we think about others and make responsible choices.
This week marked the anniversary of the death of Marcus Aurelius and we shared on our social media one of his best lines on stoic resilience: ‘Peer deeply into yourself. There is a source of strength that will spring up within you, if only you look.’ His words are not revelation or fancy. They are based on solid observation of the human capacity for resilience and courage in a crisis. We all have that in our nature and by connecting with each other, that resilience can not just be a strength for ourselves, but rise up to carry us all through this situation together.