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National forum examines implications of diminished humanist values

Neal Lester welcomes panel, guests at forum
September 07, 2012

As our global society continues to evolve and march forward in the digital age, education, business and nonprofit leaders who gathered at a forum in the nation’s capital suggested that interpersonal relationships, communication and civility are possibly diminishing.

“Technology poses an interesting challenge. It offers many new opportunities, but our so-called communications devices actually teach us not to interact directly with one another,” said Sally Kitch, Regents’ Professor and director of the Institute for Humanities Research at Arizona State University. “We’ve become very selective in how we choose to communicate. We can now express ourselves in cyberspace with no repercussions. If repressing diverse voices once supported civility, this voluntary exclusion of diverse voices is now undermining it.”

Kitch’s remarks were made at a Sept. 7 forum called “Are We Losing Our Humanity?” hosted by Arizona State University at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. Kitch was one of nine panelists who explored the implications of explosive population growth, divisive political rhetoric, new media, and religious and cultural intolerance for maintaining humanistic values.

“This theme of ‘Are we losing our humanity?’ resonates with so many because everyone on some level is trying to make sense of the seemingly senseless acts that take place in our homes, in our communities, and in our world,” said Neal A. Lester, director of ASU’s Project Humanities and forum co-coordinator. “Media attention and news headlines of vicious personal attacks in the name of political campaigning, the public massacres, the blatant abuses of power, and the myriad other happenings around us require self-reflection, critical awareness and honest dialogue.

"Our hope is that the forum has given our participants some new information and perspectives to help navigate our own thinking. As well, we hope that there is a renewed sense of how humanities as the study of humanity matter every day.”

A re-infusion of humanistic values and perspectives in the way we train scientists, businesspeople, doctors and engineers to help them develop more efficient systems was one of many recommendations from the panel.

In addition to Kitch, other panelists included John Churchill, secretary, The Phi Beta Kappa Society; E. Wayne Golden, president and CEO, Research Triangle Institute International; Nick Lambesis; chairman, The Lambesis Agency; Esther Mackintosh, president, Federation of State Humanities Councils; Cora Marrett, deputy director, National Science Foundation; Christen Rosen, senior editor, The New Atlantis; Gene Schwam, co-founder and CEO, Hanson & Schwam Public Relations and Rafael Rangel Sostman, Tecnologico de Monterrey. Rosemary Feal, executive director, Modern Language Association moderated the panel after opening remarks by Lester.