What does ‘humanistic’ mean?
Humanistic thought holds that people are active agents in a process of constantly engaging their humanity, instead of passive mechanisms or parts upon which doctors, workplaces, and systems act.
Humanistic thought holds that people cannot be reduced to components, but instead are whole beings, with intrinsic dignity, whose subjective experiences must be valued.
To really understand people, you can’t look at an MRI image. You can’t look at a test score. You can’t refuse to talk about anything except “behavior.” Deep down, we all know that.
To really understand people, you have to grapple with emotions; with love, with desire, with anger, with fear. You have to deal with aspirations: with hope, with ambition, with self-actualization.
To really understand people, you have to look at the systems they participate in, the cultures they come from, and the way their internal worlds connect with the collective structures around them.
Throughout the history of ideas, many movements have refused to do this because the human experience is rich and troublesome, messy and complex. They have sought to use methods that offer yes-or-no answers, and in so doing tried to reduce people to charts and binary functions. People are economic actors, or the sum of their political decisions, their faith community, or the neurotransmitters running through their brains – and nothing more.
The humanistic perspective emerged out of a movement to approach people as they truly are, and to try to understand them on their own terms. It asks the big questions – what is the human spirit? What binds us together? What does it mean to be alive? – because these are the questions that many people are trying to answer.
A humanistic university not only encourages students to ask those questions, in a meaningful way that is relevant to their lives and work, but teaches that way; treating its students as unique individuals with unique talents, passions, and life’s work, rather than as cookie-cutter “customers” to be loaded up with pre-fab knowledge and sent along. A humanistic university empowers students to make choices that are relevant and meaningful, and teaches them how to take their lives and careers to the next level. A humanistic university believes that education and service go hand in hand, and that results can best be measured by the way they improve the lives of real people. It focuses on qualitative research as much as quantitative, on human potential as much as profit, and on spirit as much as mind.
Saybrook is one of the world’s leading centers for scholarship in the humanistic tradition. The Journal of Humanistic Psychology, one of the movement’s leading publication, has always been edited by a Saybrook faculty member.
Today, Saybrook University’s mission, vision, and programs remain grounded in a belief in human potential and the conviction that all human beings are capable of personal growth and achieving higher states of consciousness.