HKIS Student Comments:
– Bethany (1996), writing about her visit to the Foshan orphanage, on the second interim to this site.
– Destry (2010), commenting on her study of and action on behalf of Darfur.
“I went into this course thinking that I already knew there was suffering in the world, I already knew life was unfair and people were dying, but that knowledge was tucked away, deep in my heart where I could avoid it at all costs and pull it out only when it was necessary. This course literally pulled that knowledge out of me and with it came compassion, sadness, sometimes anger, and for the first time in my life I felt motivation to do something about it.”
– Mel (2007), reflecting on Humanities I in Action
“I chose ‘Service, Society, and the Sacred’ as an elective class because I didn’t want to lose all the progress I had made in Humanities [I in Action]. The way I imagined it was by picturing myself as a cocoon. Humanities [I in Action] had effectively cracked the hard outer shell, but I still needed a final blow to completely eradicate the inner shell, allowing me to grow into a beautiful butterfly. SSS was that final blow.”
– Rohan Bansal (2014), commenting in his final SSS paper about his journey through high school
“I believe that in a decade’s time, the only high school course that I can remember vividly is the Humanities I in Action course. It was an eye opening, a unique experience that touched my heart. It allowed me to be connected with the abandoned orphans, the neglected elderlies, the unwanted addicts, and the helpless disabled. Not only had it opened my eyes to the sufferings of those who are less fortunate, it also moved me deeply into appreciating what a wonderful life I had been leading, and how I should share my love and care with those who have nothing. The course had sparked my eagerness to be a committed volunteer at Riding for Disabled and sacrifice every Saturday to help young handicap children to regain their sense of mobility and confidence; as well as prompted me to take an interests in other social enterprises and took part in launching a new charity that provide school meals to schools in China and Africa. I believe that it is the overwhelming sense of gratitude and love towards what my parents, teachers and friends had provided me that enabled me to share what I can with the others. And I do believe that the insights that I have gained from Humanities I in Action will always remain in my heart and mind, and become part of my core values, steering the way I feel and act towards others.”
– Jacqui Yeung (2013), reflecting on her 9th grade experience.
“Volunteering to build houses for Habitat for Humanity was one of the highlights of my life. Every day on that trip, I felt a remarkable sense of harmony with myself, with my group-mates and with the environment. Before this trip, I had never enjoyed sweating or manual labor (being pampered and spoilt, especially by air-conditioning, in Hong Kong), but this time, I found the job meaningful, and even fun. I enjoyed working in a village surrounded by pastures and fields that extended towards mountains in the far horizon. I enjoyed the feeling of being in a group working hard and striving towards a common goal. I enjoyed connecting with the Mongolian family and seeing how much the house and our contribution meant to them. But most of all, I enjoyed the work because it was beautiful. It was not just meaningful; it was deeper than that. It felt right to me. There was a sense of remarkable internal coherence as I was able to connect to my work physically, emotionally, spiritually and morally . . . It is special experiences like these that bring a heightened sense of meaning and purpose to my life and help connect me to my spirituality.”
– Jasmine (2008)
“In sophomore year, I went on a service interim to Mongolia. It was the most eye-opening experience I have ever had. What stayed with me the most . . . was coming into contact with street families that gave me the biggest paradigm shift. We had the chance to go down manholes where many street families lived . . . When I emerged from that hole and smelled the brisk, fresh air, I felt relieved to be out. At the same time, I felt so guilty because I do not deserve to be well-off any more than they do, yet our fates turned out so differently. This experience shattered conceptions that my parents instilled in me as a child. All along, I believed that poor people are poor because they are lazy, and the government should not help them otherwise they would just leech off the country’s wealth without doing anything. Now I am ashamed I ever felt that way because the homeless I met in Mongolia were trying their hardest, picking up bottles and whatever trash they could find on the streets to sell.”
– Bianca (2008)
“There are so many things in this world that are unfair. The fact that most of the world lives on two dollars or less. The fact that many children do not even own a pencil. The fact that chocolate is made at the expense of innocent people’s lives. The most unfair thing is the fact that I get to write this paper; reflecting on all the “great” things I’ve done and the “great” things I will do, while millions of people suffer . . . . My gift to the community is my passionate and caring personality. When I see a beggar on the street, an old woman walking slowly with a cane, an orphan lying helplessly in his or her crib, a woman being shot in a documentary, I want more than anything to reach out and give that person a hug, tell them that it’s okay and that I will take the pain away.”
– Rachel (2009), in her final “Service, Society, and the Sacred” paper
“As I continued learning about everything that was wrong in the world, there were moments I wanted to close my eyes forever, to forget and erase and not care. The crisis in Myanmar had not abated, but no one was talking about it anymore. In Darfur, people were being burned to death, cut to pieces and shot. I was doing nothing about it, and the world did not seem to care about it, and the little they were doing wasn’t enough. I was the little child trying to plug up holes in a bursting dam of world disasters . . . I felt utterly alone and wanted to stop. Relief didn’t come until December when I went to Foshan . . . As I sat in the hotel conference room, I had a lot to say about hope and love and caring for people, but I still wasn’t sure if I meant it. In fact, it wasn’t until I walked into the nursery and saw a small, quiet baby reach for me that I began to feel some sort of peace . . . In all my previous experiences with service, I’ve always had specific goals to help the community. I had never considered that the people I helped could give to me that inexplicable something that I was so hungry for . . . With genuine love for them and not just a mechanical mission . . . my work could have a soul and I could go on.”
– Charmaine (2008)
“Hi Mr. Schmidt and Ms. Talbot,
I was starting on my college applications – which obviously require a lot of reflection upon your high school career, and realized that I had truly developed my path to social consciousness throughout the last four years. I realized that since taking Humanities I in Action, I had based a lot of my decision making on what I had learnt in that class. Humanities in Action truly inspired me to think outside of my own bubble and explore more of the world and of the issues that are prominent in our world today. Because of Humanities in Action, I decided to take Asian History in Action with Mr. Kersten in sophomore year, which was another great eye opener. By the end of my sophomore year, a couple friends and I started up Greenpeace (we established it as an official branch at HKIS) and now, we have around 100 members! Next semester I’ll be taking Service Society Sacred as well. All of these decisions I have made throughout my high school career may be attributed to the things I learnt during Humanities in Action.
I’ll be continuing my journey to social consciousness in college for certain. I have decided on majoring in Environmental Analysis – as it is a broad major that provides insight in the science and ethics of our environment. I have planned on applying early decision to Pitzer College (a member of the Claremont consortium in California). This school really reminded me of what was taught in humanities. They emphasize their core values, which are social responsibility, intercultural understanding, interdisciplinary learning, student engagement and environmental sustainability. Pitzer is a college that wants their students to leave college with the ability to utilize their major in a manner that will change and transform the world. One of their supplements truly exemplifies this: “Propose a solution to a global or local issue in our world today using our core values.” I feel as though if it weren’t for Humanities in Action, I would never have fallen in love with this college and their core values. I truly hope that I will be accepted!
The reason why I decided to write this email to you two is because, I’d simply like to thank you both for inspiring me to do more for the world and for teaching me the true meaning of selflessness.
All the best,
Comments on Humanities I in Action
“It was my pleasure to contribute to this extraordinary intellectual and social experience you are creating in Hong Kong, that should be replicated world wide, and clearly a program that HIP wants to be affiliated with, support and contribute to.”
– Email communication with Philip Zimbardo, Stanford University.
Danger of Uninformed Action
– Albert Camus, French-Algerian existentialist
“Among the entitled, individual social conscience is typically channeled into volunteerism. The affluent are forever involved in charity causes, which though good, refuse to raise systemic issues to the public eye.”
– Ched Myers
Faith as Social Conscience Transformation
The scholar of religion William Cantwell Smith, for example, defined faith as “an orientation of the personality, to oneself, to one’s neighbor, to the universe; a total response; a way of seeing whatever one sees and of handling whatever one handles; a capacity to live at more than a mundane level; to see, to feel, to act in terms of, a transcendent dimension” (day 26 of Philip Goldberg’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita)
The False Self / Lower Self
“Beginning in infancy (or even before) each of us, in response to perceived threats to our well-being, develops a false self: a set of protective behaviors driven at root by a sense of need and lack. The essence of the false self is driven, addictive energy, consisting of tremendous emotional investment in compensatory ’emotional programs for happiness,’ as Keating calls them.”
– Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening
“All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not. Often these are addictive feelings—and they are addictive. Then, when you can get little enough, naked enough, and poor enough, you’ll find that the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect from other people.
That place is called emotional freedom. It’s the freedom of the children of God (Galatians 5:1). Such people can connect with everybody because they are not so attached to themselves, their hurts, memories, and neediness. To live from this place cuts the roots of violence at their very foundation, for now there is no irrational basis for fear or anger or self-protection or hatred. Negativity must be nipped in the bud—that is to say, in the mind and in the emotions, or it will invariably lead to negative actions and behaviors.”
– Richard Rohr, adapted from “Healing Our Violence from the Journey of Centering Prayer”
“The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves—say rather, loved in spite of ourselves.”
– Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
Living in the Moment
“As it is, we are merely bolting our lives—gulping down undigested experiences as fast as we can stuff them in—because awareness of our own existence is so superficial and so narrow that nothing seems to us more boring than simple being. If I ask you what you did, saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted yesterday, I am likely to get nothing more than the thin, sketchy outline of the few things that you noticed, and of those only what you thought worth remembering. Is it surprising that an existence so experienced seems so empty and bare that its hunger for an infinite future is insatiable? But suppose you could answer, “It would take me forever to tell you, and I am much too interested in what’s happening now.” How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such a fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself as anything less than a god? And, when you consider that this incalculably subtle organism is inseparable from the still more marvelous patterns of its environment—from the minutest electrical designs to the whole company of the galaxies—how is it conceivable that this incarnation of all eternity can be bored with being?”
~ Alan Watts, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
Matter and Consciousness
“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
– Max Planck, The Observer (25 January 1931)
“The greatest taboo among serious intellectuals of the century just behind us, in fact, proved to be none of the “transgressions” itemized by postmodern thinkers: It was, rather, the heresy of challenging a materialist worldview.”
—Victoria Nelson, The Secret Life of Puppets (2002)
The Question of Hope
“I do not understand human existence and the struggle needed to improve it, apart from hope and dream. Hope is an ontological category. Hopelessness is but hope that has lost its bearing, and become a distortion of the ontological need . . . . When it becomes a program, hopelessness paralyzes us, immobilizes us. We succumb to fatalism, and then it becomes impossible to muster the strength we absolutely need for the fierce struggle that will re-create the world”
– Paulo Freire, p. 2-3, Pedagogy of Hope
When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.”
― Paul Hawken
Purpose and Identity
“Inside of every student – from kindergarten through graduate school – lurks an implicit question, often unformed and unconscious, rarely spoken. It’s a simple question on the surface, but a question that bubbles with hidden and surprising meanings, always yeasty, unpredictable, potentially volcanic: Who in the world am I? The student looks inward at the self, and simultaneously faces outward, toward the expanding circles of context. Who am I, in the world?”
– William Ayers, Teaching the Personal and the Political: Essays on hope and justice, p. 117
“No skill set will be useful for a lifetime. But something else will be. Graduates should have a sense of purpose, for their own lives and for the society of which they are citizens and for the world as a whole.”
– Harry Lewis, former Harvard professor, commenting on Hong Kong’s move toward general education
The Question for Zusya
Once the great Hassidic leader, Zusya, came to his followers. His eyes were red with tears, and his face was pale with fear. “Zusya, what’s the matter? You look frightened!”
“The other day, I had a vision. In it, I learned the question that the angels will one day ask me about my life.”
The followers were puzzled. “Zusya, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”
Zusya turned his gaze to heaven. “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you Moses, leading your people out of slavery?’ They will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you Joshua, leading your people into the Promised Land?'”
Looking him in the eyes, one follower demanded, “But what will they ask you?” “They will say, ‘Zusya, there was only one thing that no power of heaven or earth could have prevented you from becoming.’ They will say, ‘Zusya, Zusya, why were you not Zusya?'”
Education for Transformation
Jane Goodall identifies the steps of awareness, emotional engagement, and action as the process in which students become social conscious individuals.
“Transformative learning involves experiencing a deep, structural shift in the basic premises of thought, feelings, and actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and irreversibly alters our way of being in the world. Such a shift involves our understanding of ourselves and our self-locations; our relationships with other humans and with the natural world; our understanding of relations of power in interlocking structures of class, race and gender; our body awarenesses, our visions of alternative approaches to living; and our sense of possibilities for social justice and peace and personal joy.”
– O’Sullivan, E. (2003) “Bringing a perspective of transformative learning to globalized consumption.” International Journal of Consumer Studies, 27 (4), 326–330.
“The greater the depth of society, the greater the burden placed on the education and transformation of its citizens. The greater the depth, the more things can go massively, wretchedly, horribly wrong . . . . The “economic gap” between rich and poor is bad enough, but much more crucial – and much more hidden – is the culture gap, the ‘values gap,’ the ‘depth gap,’ which is the gap between the depth offered as a potential by the culture, and those who can actually unfold the depth in their own case” (p. 297-298).
“The number one underlying problem, when attempting to create healthy people, is an imbalance between informational knowledge and organismic, transformational knowledge . . . . [What is needed is] a balance between conceptual, rational logical, analytic knowing and felt-sense knowing” (p. 17).
– Edwin M. McMahon, Peter A. Campbell, in Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connections within Christian Spirituality
Wisdom from spiritual traditions
“Conscience is the pearl of great price; it is both the instrument and the supreme realization of visionary seeing. It is the capacity always and everywhere to see the whole of God yearning to become manifest in all our human beings and doings, like the full of the moon faintly present behind the crescent. With the awakening of this eye, you no longer see Wisdom; you are Wisdom. You become God’s peace, and the greatest of all artists as you dance with ‘the love that moves the stars and the sun’.”
“The greatest religious challenge of our age is to hold together social action and spiritual disciplines. This is not just a theological necessity, dictated by the need to integrate all of life around the reality of the living God. It is a matter of sheer survival. The evils we confront are so massive, so inhuman, so impervious to appeals and dead to compassion, that those who struggle against them face the real possibility of being overwhelmed by them.”
– Theologian Walter Wink