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Communities can only survive and work effectively, and increase the
welfare and happiness of their members, if the people who live in them
cooperate and accept certain principles, based on shared human values.
These values include looking after young and other vulnerable people, seeking the truth and respecting promises, mutual assistance in defence and disasters, disapproval of wrongdoers, restraints on violence and killing.
Humanists value happiness, freedom and justice, and are motivated by the desire to increase these and to leave the world a better place. Of course, that leaves many questions unanswered. Quite what is involved in happiness? How do we measure, say, the value of free speech against protecting the community? Recognising such puzzles and striving to give answers is part of what it means to be human.
Humanists believe that we should make the best of the one life we have, and that any rewards and punishments we may receive are here on earth. People who actively care about other people, and who act on their concern, usually do have better relationships and more rewarding lives.
Of course the world also contains injustice: bad people do sometimes prosper and good people suffer. Nevertheless, it is not naïve or stupid to be good, as some cynics would have it. It is actually a sensible and rational response to the problems and pleasures of living with other people.
The human capacity for language has made it possible for us to formulate, be aware of and transmit complex systems of rules, sanctions and rewards – and to possess concepts such as those of fairness, honesty, courage. Shared human nature explains the considerable basic agreement between religions, societies, and ethical and legal systems, about what is good or bad, tolerable or intolerable, moral or immoral.