Being a humanitarian

Explore and reflect on traits that can lead to effective humanitarian action.

Red Cross workers give humanitarian aid supplies to people who have fled their homes in Ukraine

What is a humanitarian to you?

Draw or write the thoughts that come to mind when you think of the word humanitarian. Is there a particular person who you know, and think modelled this well?  What were the key traits they have or had?   

Make a note of the key things that made them a humanitarian. 

For the British Red Cross, a humanitarian is a person who prevents and alleviates human suffering wherever it may be found. They encourage mutual understanding, respect, and friendship. Taking no sides, they will be sure to act without judgement or prejudicial treatment against any situation they confront, and promote peace and co-operation among different groups of people. At the British Red Cross, a humanitarian wants to achieve human welfare for all individuals, and aims to provide relief  to those who face increased risk, suffering and distress. 

What traits are important to humanitarians?

To be a humanitarian, you don't have to have physically gone through all the experiences that other people have faced. For Farzana, a humanitarian is someone who takes the time to try to understand a person’s feelings and thoughts.  Read this extract from Farzana’s interview on what a humanitarian is to her and make notes of the humanitarian traits she finds important.

"Something we can all do to be effective humanitarians is embracing and accepting the different contexts that things are happening in. I think it’s always important to pause, take a step backwards, look at a situation and try and view it from different perspectives."

We all have our own experiences, backgrounds, and biases.

She continues "It's also important to remember that, as humans, we all really want human connection. No matter where we are from and what we have seen."

Awareness of our influences can help us understand and support others. Being open to understanding how others may think and feel is important.

Use these questions to help reflect on what you have read.

  • How can we think more like a humanitarian?
  • What can make this process a challenge?

What does humanitarian thinking involve?

Humanitarian thought involves thinking flexibly which means stepping back to see all the angles of a situation. It’s less about being critical, instead it’s to do with being open to better understand and question what is around us.

It may be challenging because we process a lot of information, so use short cuts based on our experiences to make fast decisions. This can cause us to overlook some matters that need more reflection.

Think about the scenario below and consider whether our perceptions sometimes limit us from seeing the impact of our actions.

Hani went to the opticians with her daughter for a check-up. When Hani and her daughter arrived, the receptionist was incredibly welcoming, but immediately started and continued to speak to the daughter only, assuming that Hani didn’t speak any English.

Hani felt ignored; she’s has lived in the UK for many years now and has taken English classes to improve her confidence in the language. Although the receptionist was incredibly kind and doing her best to support the situation from her point of view, Hani felt voiceless, which reduced her confidence.  

  • How can seeing a situation from a range of perspectives help us to support others better?

Embracing flexible thinking

If you had to think of five tips or steps to pausing and thinking in a difficult situation that involves others, what would they be? Note these down. Now look at the five steps below that you might consider when presented with that same situation. Do these compare to what you had written down and is there anything you would take away or change?

  1. Recognise your feelings and thoughts
  2. Reflect on how your own experiences may be affecting a situation
  3. Be actively prepared to change your viewpoint
  4. Break down a situation to consider a range of perspectives.
  5. Reflect on further actions such as asking questions or gathering information from multiple sources to help you if you feel uncertain. 

Apply this thinking to the scenario above to reflect on what the characters could have done to see the situation from a range of angles. How might this have changed how Hani felt? 

Thinking flexibly can take time. We can reflect on previous experiences to learn how to approach things in the future.