Studying Humanities Creates Successful Democracy

At a university forum, Jim Leach, former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, spoke on how being human is key to successful democracy. 

PROVO, Utah (Feb. 24, 2015)—“Democracy was created to humanize, but when you dehumanize a humanized system, you’ve got a real problem,” said Former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities Jim Leach, Tuesday in the Marriott Center.

Leach, speaking during a BYU Forum address, focused on how students, citizens and politicians can further democracy by humanizing others via human contact, respect and understanding.Jim Leach

He pointed out that LDS missionaries who serve outside the United States are just one example of how humanization is beneficial to a society.

These missionaries live within and learn about new cultures. Leach observed that the opportunities these young missionaries have allows them to respect, learn, understand and therefore have positive relations with these other countries and cultures.

Students, citizens and politicians must learn about the country’s culture, underlying problems and economic differences in order to have violence-free conflict resolution. As one makes an effort to understand, they show respect towards that nation, he said.

“We should be loving and respecting to our neighbor instead of hating what makes them different,” Leach said. “Unless we understand each other, we will never get along.”


After serving a LDS mission outside the United States, members have a responsibility and duty to tell their elected representatives what is happening in the world and what they saw in their time abroad, Leach said.

Everyone should not only learn from those in other nations to improve democracy, but also from those around us and those who came before us, Leach said.

“History has a circular quality, and tends to repeat and sometimes rewind,” Leach said. “Wisdom by contrast is linear. Smart people learn from their own mistakes, and a really smart person learns by the mistakes of others, as well as the mistakes of those who came before them.”

Leach said in order to learn about others and learn from other all students, citizens and politicians need to listen with their ears unplugged. Anyone can listen to someone’s opinion, but maybe their ears are plugged with dollar bills and selfish desires, he said. When one aligns his loyalties to the common good, and listens with a will to see all perspectives, humanization is found.

“Civility does not mean that de-argumentation is necessary, because you need argumentation. But civility means we are all connected and we all rely on each other, so we should respect each other,” Leach said.

—Jenna Randle