“The deep, moving and urgent reminder of the importance of humanity’’ – a conference reflection

By: Aisling Quigley   |   Marketing and Communications Advisor, Philanthropy Australia

“For the Love of Humanity: People, Place and Planet”

These few words were my very first introduction to the Philanthropy Australia 2022 national conference, and in truth, a more serious introduction to the world of philanthropy at large. 

As someone who in the past had heard the word spoken from a distance, was brand new to the sector, and a very fresh three weeks into the job, there were many sentiments swirling as the week unfolded, and my baptism of fire began. 

Would I know enough to hold my own in a conversation? How could I best represent my organisation and team without letting them down? Would I do my role justice whilst feeling like an imposter?

Keeping my inner critic in check was a job in and of itself, helped by a firm promise to listen, and more intentionally, so became my most important endeavour as the conference played out.

Where I lacked in knowledge in philanthropy, in a room filled with sector leaders, academics, and international experts, I reminded myself that my deep curiosity of the human condition continued to burn brightly. Humanity was not only a word that sparked my interest in a big way, but one that soon became the singular thread I could hold onto, and the one certainty that would continue to help me make sense of a world which was very new to me.

What I also knew to be true? That humans whilst hardwired for connection, empathy and inclusion, so too are hardwired for judgement, hate and division. As the opening addresses began, it quickly became apparent, that for me, this conference, was to be the very place where the stories would be woven and truths told on both sides, with the aspiration of reminding us of all that binds us together, rather than keeps us apart and continuing our connection to that in what can feel like an incredibly disconnected world, in this modern society we all live in. 

We began with a heartfelt welcome to country from Uncle Allen Madden, who paid respects to the people of the Gadigal lands upon which our conference was to take place, and the centuries of stories that were woven on these lands before us, helping us to hold our very “place” over the course of the week with greater reverence.

Our CEO Jack Heath, spoke to a big-hearted philanthropy, and gave a deeply personal account of his own why. Which reminded us to question our own. He noted that at the heart of philanthropy, brings with it, humility, love and joy no matter the size of the gift and to radiate to those around us, to the world, and to all of humanity.

The very essence of the human condition was echoed by broadcast journalist Stan Grant’s grounding address sprinkled with a reality check however, as he questioned our conference’s namesake. He asked us to uncomfortably question… 

“Are we really living in a world where we see a love of humanity?” 

“In the face of love – is evil winning in a world where we are sometimes haunted by our past?” and “is it enough to give more, in a world that takes so much?”

Listening around the room in the hours and days that followed there was much talk about this particular keynote. It was uncomfortable. But so is life. So are the injustices and the inequalities that still exist. That was the point. 

As the following panel hosted by Catherine Liddle shared “if you’re sitting in a room that makes you uncomfortable, that’s a very good place to be.”

With discomfort, follows the question to stay idle, or the call to take action in a meaningful way. What do we choose?

I’ve often heard the phrase that we are given two ears and one mouth for a reason, and this was something else I kept turning back to throughout the few days. How fortunate I was both to sit back and listen, but also how important it is to listen with not just a view to hear, but a view to understand. To consciously make the effort to seek out those that are calling to be seen and heard, and to not be so quick to foolishly think we know best. To use stories and use them to shape narratives and mindsets, as a way to inform the way we think, act, and do, showcasing perspectives to help build better futures, in the way that’s actually needed.

Dr. Andrew Leigh MP spoke of the Greek word for love - Agape, “a selfless love that is passionately committed to the wellbeing of others, seen as the highest level of love known to humanity.” A word, and sentiment that seems to have dwindled with the ages.

He shared how we have moved from an average of nine close friends to five in recent years, how the collective has transitioned from a world where the importance of me/us to me/I, and asked us to reflect on how we reconnect, and place value on a community that all of us will be happier in?

His Excellency Vasyl Myroshnychenko, Ambassador of Ukraine to Australia shared a moving and profound account of the sheer devastation and destruction happening to the place he calls home. A very real and harrowing account of the “cancer of inequality” Stan Grant spoke about on day one. A reminder that whilst we have the privilege to sit, listen and reflect, so to is there an urgency to remember that whilst none of us are on this planet for very long, but whilst we are here, we all have the chance to make a difference in whatever way we can, both here, and as we were reminded, beyond our shores.

Professor Kristy Muir questioned “how do I contribute to making the world a little better?” and “who is the we?”, to which she answered, it’s all of us. 

Listen. Act. Check yourself. Give what you can. Measure. Adjust. Keep going. All themes that kept coming up for me, and when you know better, do better.

So how do we do this? How do we make a change, and endeavour to do better I asked myself.

Chancellor Professor Peter Shergold AC posed the reflection “is philanthropy the answer? No. But is it a good starting point? Absolutely yes.”

Immersing ourselves in stories, remembering the very nature of our history and humanity, leaning into discomfort, listening, taking meaningful action, and measuring impact. Making the small, yet sometimes seismic shift from me back to we, to community and the deep, moving and urgent reminder of the importance of humanity. 

Now that, sounds like something I want to be a part of. 

Where to from here? That intention to listen remains. 

To use my two ears and one mouth to the best of my ability, for the love of humanity, people, place and planet.

Sep. 16, 2022

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